E-commerce hiring booms as traditional retail sheds jobs into holiday shopping season

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An employee looks for items in one of the corridors at an Amazon warehouse.

Carlos Jasso | Reuters

The November jobs report showed that the pandemic-induced surge in e-commerce spending is spilling over into holiday hiring trends.

The warehousing and transportation segment added 145,000 jobs last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Labor Department, including 82,000 for couriers and messengers. Those sectors include many jobs held by e-commerce companies like Amazon, with workers packing and delivering online orders.

Traditional retail, however, shed 35,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis last month.

Those numbers show that a ramp up in employment for the holiday shopping season is occurring faster than normal in jobs associated with e-commerce but lagging for mainline retail.

“What we’re seeing is really the acceleration of a longer run trend,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, pointing out that segments associated with e-commerce have been growing jobs more than retail for several years.

The changes in the makeup of the holiday employment surge are backed up by company announcements. Amazon has been on a hiring spree all year, saying it would hire 100,000 seasonal staff after already adding hundreds of thousands of jobs earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, several big box retailers have filed for bankruptcy this year, and many others have cut jobs.

The Labor Department’s non-seasonally adjusted numbers showed that retail trade jobs did grow in November, but was down by roughly 600,000 jobs compared with the same period last year. By the same measure, employment for couriers and messengers was up by 216,000 year over year.

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