Retail Hiring Helped MN Add 9,500 Jobs In December

Retail Hiring Helped MN Add 9,500 Jobs In December

The trade, transportation, and utilities sector—which includes retail—added 4,600 jobs in December, fueling Minnesota’s employment growth during the month.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, Minnesota employers added a net 9,500 jobs in December as the state’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent.

That’s according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which found that job gains were fueled largely by improved employment levels in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector, as well as in government jobs.

Steve Hine, research director of DEED’s Labor Market Information Office, said that growth in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector—which includes retailers—was driven by hiring at department stores.

Months leading up to the all-important holiday shopping season seemed to indicate that retailers’ hiring was weak, but “December really turned that around,” Hine said. The numbers are seasonally adjusted, meaning that they reflect an increase over levels seen in December during the past several years, but Hine referred to the gains as “a huge and welcome boost.”

He also briefly referenced a recent announcement, however, that cast a “shadow” over the retail industry, presumably alluding to Target Corporation's latest layoffs. Not to mention that major retailers, such as Best Buy, have now disclosed unexpectedly weak holiday sales.

In December, Minnesota's government sector added 2,600 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, reflecting improvement in the “non-educational” component of local government jobs, as well as strength in employment at state universities, Hine said.

Other gains occurred in manufacturing (up 1,700), education and health services (1,200), professional and business services (1,000), construction (400), and logging and mining (100).

The losses that occurred in various industries in December were “relatively slight,” Hine said. The sectors that shed jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis included leisure and hospitality (down 800), other services (700), financial activities (500), and information (100).

“December’s employment numbers closed out a strong year for the Minnesota labor market,” DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said in a statement. “Eleven out of 12 major industrial sectors gained jobs last year, and leading indicators point to continued growth in 2014.”

The only sector that has lost jobs year-over-year is manufacturing, which is down 400 jobs, according to DEED. In fact, Minnesota has added a net 45,900 jobs in the past year, the agency said.

Positive Indicators

Hine said that there is substantial anecdotal evidence to suggest that there will be a continuation of job growth, at least into early 2014.

For example, the state’s labor force participation rate ticked up 0.1 percent in December to 70.1 percent, after six months of declines, Hine said. Furthermore, the length of the average work week inched up, and online job postings jumped, reducing the ratio of job seekers to job postings in Minnesota. And the share of unemployed who have been out of work for six months or longer continues to decline.

Too, there’s a “significant momentum built into the recovery” that appears to be offsetting the impact of frigid temperatures on certain portions of the Minnesota workforce, Hine said.

Previously released data has also been revised to reflect a more rosy employment picture. DEED reported last month that Minnesota lost a net 800 jobs in November, although that number was since revised upward by 1,700 jobs, DEED said Thursday.

Hine said that one of his ongoing concerns, however, is weakness in the professional and business services sector. It saw some growth in December but has been struggling recently, and the sector often serves as a barometer of the larger economy, as it reflects demand for services from a variety of businesses. DEED will be watching in the coming months to see if the sector continues to improve, Hine said.