Idaho retail employment grew 2.5 percent between 2016 and 2018, despite a national spate of store closures and employment declines.
With many retail chains closing hundreds of stores across the U.S., headlines about a “retail apocalypse” have appeared on news sites. Last year, according to Coresight Research, 5,524 stores across the United States closed. In the first eight months of this year, 8,051 closed. This year closures could exceed the record set in 2017, when 8,139 stores were shuttered. Challenger, Gray & Christmas counts 53,248 announced retail job cuts for the first half of this year, compared with 98,563 for all of last year.
Between 2016 and 2018, employment in U.S. retail stores fell 0.2 percent, while employment at Idaho’s retail stores grew 2.5 percent, from 81,265 to 83,330. Between June 2018 and June 2019, retail store jobs in the U.S. fell 0.5 percent, while they rose 1.8 percent in Idaho, adding 1,600 jobs.
The retail industry has been on a roller coaster ride over the past 25 years with a slightly negative trend line as shown in Figure 1. The housing bubble created tremendous demand for household furnishings and goods, which then plummeted with the Great Recession that caused shuttering of a handful of furniture stores and car lots in Twin Falls. Small retail businesses throughout south central Idaho suffered from the economic downturn ending in fewer local retail outlets available in rural areas.
Love it or hate it, the holiday season for retailers is a crazy extravaganza of shopping and consumerism. More shopping days besides Black Friday are getting their own names such as Gray Thursday and Cyber Monday.
The evolution of the shopping tradition fuels the economic life and hiring of retail in the final quarter of the year and influences the pattern of hiring holiday help in Idaho. This year, with the unemployment rate down to 4.0 percent, establishments looking for holiday help may have a hard time finding the employees they need.
In 2013 retail sales in the United States rose to $4.53 trillion, an increase of 16 percent from the prior year. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, retail sales made up 27 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2013, up from 26.8 percent in 2012.
That kind of activity as the economic recovery continues would presumably lead to an increase in retail jobs, but unemployment among Idaho retail workers is much higher than the 5.2 percent jobless rate for the overall economy in March.