Grocery Stores Saw More Job Losses in May

Decline wasn't as steep as in April, but food and beverage stores shed 26,000 jobs last month
Kroger associate
Photograph courtesy of Kroger

The U.S. economy added 559,000 jobs in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported June 4, following a disappointing April in which fewer than 300,000 jobs were added. 

The unemployment rate ticked down to 5.8% in May from 6.1% in April as restaurants and bars saw job gains and more teenagers found jobs. Food services and drinking establishments added 186,000 jobs in May, on par with their April gains, and the teen unemployment rate declined 9.6%.

Food and beverage stores, by contrast, shed 26,000 jobs in May after losing more than 45,000 jobs in April and 2,000 jobs in March. Overall, retail employment was down by 6,000 jobs in May, with gains in clothing stores helping make up for some of grocery stores' losses. 

Employment at general merchandise stores, including warehouse clubs and supercenters, declined by 4,700 jobs. The manufacturing and transportation/warehousing sectors each added 23,000 jobs in May.

Average hourly earnings for workers in production and nonsupervisory roles increased 14 cents to $25.60 in May after a gain of 19 cents in April. "The data for the last two months suggest that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages," the BLS reported.

The bureau revised its April employment summary upward to state that employers added 278,000 jobs in April12,000 jobs more than originally reported.

The not-for-profit Conference Board, which counts more than 1,000 private and public corporations and organizations as members, said in a statement in response to the May report that because labor-force participation is still well below pre-pandemic rates, labor shortages could remain for most of 2021, particularly for in-person service jobs.

"While the demand for workers is high, supply continues to be constrained due to pandemic-related circumstances such as child care challenges, elevated unemployment benefits (which has increased bargaining power for some unemployed workers), and the fear of contracting COVID-19," Conference Board Senior Economist Frank Steemers wrote. "Since current labor shortages are mostly temporary and a result of the rapid reopening of the economy, towards the end of 2021 we should experience loosening labor markets." 



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