Now hiring, where possible: As hiring signs taped to glass doors greet shoppers entering grocery stores across the country, the latest monthly jobs report finds that food retailers gave up more than 12,000 jobs in September.
Grocery stores continued their multiseason string of jobs losses last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' September jobs report, shedding 12,300 jobs for the month—although that tally was an improvement from the 23,000 jobs the sector shed in August. General-merchandise stores fared better, adding 16,100 jobs for the month. Restaurants and bars gained a seasonally adjusted 29,000 jobs.
Overall, the U.S. economy added 194,000 jobs in September, fewer than many economists were looking for and well below the average monthly job growth of 561,000 so far this year. The labor-force participation rate stood at 61.6%, still within a narrow range of 61.4% to 61.7% seen since June 2020.
Extended federal unemployment benefits ended for millions of Americans on Labor Day, and labor analysts and desperate-for-labor employers alike have been eager to see what impact the end of that financial assistance may have on application and hiring numbers. But with the delta variant fueling a spike in new COVID-19 cases across much of the country last month—and sending many kids home from school due to in-classroom exposures—a sudden rush back into the ranks of the employed didn't materialize.
In recent weeks, several grocery retailers have announced their hiring plans for the fourth quarter, touting recently boosted wages and benefits as well as career-advancement opportunities with these often-permanent new roles. Target plans to hire 100,000 new store team members; Walmart is looking to add 150,000; and Southeastern regional grocer Publix seeks 30,000 new employees. Kroger this week said it will look to hire 20,000 new associates through an online job fair taking place Oct. 13. St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets, which hosted a companywide hiring fair this week, recently announced that its stores are now closing an hour earlier due in part to staffing challenges. In FMI's 2021 SPEAKS report, released last month, 80% of food retailers said their ability to attract and retain workers has been challenged and has had a negative business impact.
Wages continued to rise in September, increasing by 14 cents for private-sector production and nonsupervisory workers to $26.15 an hour. The hourly rate is up from $25.72 in June.
The BLS also revised upward both its July and August employment figures, adding 38,000 jobs (to 1.091 million) to July's total and, more significantly, 131,000 jobs (to 366,000) for August.