In a sign that labor demand remains strong, retail industry employment increased by 37,600 jobs unadjusted, year-over-year in December, the National Retail Federation said January 4.
The gains came as the nation added 312,000 jobs overall and as unemployment rose from 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent, according to the Labor Department.
"The strong growth in employment confirms that the labor market is still expanding," NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement announcing the results. "And while the unemployment rate increased, it did so for the right reason-more individuals are seeking to enter the labor force since wages are growing and more attractive."
Economy-wide, average hourly earnings in December were up 11 cents over November to $27.48 and up 84 cents from a year ago, a year-over-year increase of 3.2 percent, according to NRF.
December's retail job numbers came on top of a revised increase of 31,100 jobs in November from October. The three-month moving average, which had been at a loss of 6,700 jobs as of November, rose to an increase of 15,200 jobs in December, NRF said.
December saw monthly gains of 15,000 jobs at general merchandise stores, which include department stores and warehouse clubs, and 4,000 jobs at food and beverage stores. There were losses of 1,100 jobs at online and other non-store retailers and 9,400 jobs at sporting goods and hobby stores, the group also said.
NRF reported preliminary findings for seasonal hiring, which it says also reflect the continued tight labor market. Retailers hired 576,800 seasonal employees during November and December; this was short of the group's October forecast that temporary holiday employment would reach between 585,000 and 650,000 jobs and down from the 582,500 seasonal employees it said retailers added in 2017.
"Retailers would have been happy to hire more seasonal workers if they could have found them," Kleinhenz said. "Our industry continues to have more job openings than applicants even for full-time positions."