The 373,000-Job Deficit in Fashion Retail

Evan Clark
·2 min read

Fashion still has a long way to go before gaining back the retail jobs lost during the pandemic — if they come back at all.

While the official Labor Department reading of the December fashion retail job market was mixed, with department stores shedding workers and specialty stores gaining, the full tally for 2020 showed steep declines on both fronts.

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Department stores shed 60,200 jobs last year to employ a seasonally adjusted one million people, while specialty stores lost 313,000 jobs for a total in-store workforce of 973,900.

“The longer the pandemic continues — the longer it takes for vaccines to be administered — the greater the destruction of jobs and businesses, particularly small businesses, will be,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. “The job-letting will not end before the pandemic. In fact, we likely will not see the full ramifications of this downturn until years after the pandemic ends, when we get a better picture of just how many jobs were wiped out completely during this period.”

December department store employment fell by a seasonally adjusted 2,000 from November and apparel and accessories specialty stores added 7,700 positions as that sector continued to build back from a particularly painful drop.

Those figures only capture people who work within the four walls of the store — a measure that shows how hard brick-and-mortar apparel retailing has been hit and does not account for the big jump in e-commerce during the pandemic.

General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores, gained 56,700 jobs last month while the e-commerce essential transportation and warehousing sector added 46,600 jobs in December.

Overall the economy, which is generally believed to need about 50,000 new jobs a month to keep up with population growth, lost 140,000 positions in December after seven-straight months of increases. The unemployment rate held steady at 6.7 percent.

Leisure and hospitality was the hardest-hit sector, giving up 498,000 jobs during the month as COVID-19 cases spiked and more governments imposed restrictions on social activities.

Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, said: “The broad takeaway is that the restaurant industry is suffering intensely from the restrictions imposed due to the virus (and the fact that outdoor dining is no longer feasible in most of the country), but the underlying economy remains resilient, and spring — and vaccines — are only a few months away.”

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