Holiday jobs: Here are the retailers that are still hiring — and what they pay

 


A handful of retailers that successfully made the leap into e-commerce are hiring, but temporary, seasonal work as a store clerk or cashier during the holidays is no longer plentiful, thanks to the pandemic's battering of an already stricken retail industry. 

"There is just so much uncertainty for traditional retailers this year, and the pandemic is causing an acceleration in trends we've been seeing," Andrew Challenger, vice president of recruiting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, told CBS MoneyWatch. "Brick-and-mortar stores are where we've seen the most jobs lost in the economy the last three years."

Upended by online shopping, retailers small and large were already struggling when the coronavirus struck in March. The economic shutdown that ensued transformed the steady exodus to e-commerce into a stampede. While overall retail sales fell 3.9% from the first quarter of 2020 to the second, e-commerce sales spiked 31.8% to $211.5 billion during the same period, estimates the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"A lot of Americans have moved their shopping online for the first time. Now that they've broken the in-store habit, are they ever going to go back?" asks Challenger.

"Many retailers have been reticent to put out hiring targets this year," said Challenger, whose firm tracks hiring and layoffs. Normally, the bulk of holiday hiring has taken place, but that's been pushed back as retailers await better information about what's ahead, he noted.

Challenger's research does not include small businesses. But, anecdotally, it seems many small retailers that may have two or three employees and typically hire one extra during the holidays, probably won't this year. "We know small businesses have been hurting so badly for seven months now, and for a lot of them the holidays are a bit of an Alamo, where they are making a last stand here," Challenger said. 

Data from time-tracking company Homebase shows the number of open businesses and employees working both down by one-fifth relative to their pre-pandemic levels. (Homebase counts 60,000 small businesses among its clients, largely in the food and retail sectors.)

The slow start to holiday hiring can also be seen in data from Glassdoor, which found seasonal job openings posted on its website to be down 8% from last year. Meanwhile, applications for retail jobs on Glassdoor are up 36%, reflecting the millions of Americans currently out of work. 

According to Indeed, retail job listings are down 4% from their 2019 level, while jobs in transportation are down 13%. Warehouse job listings are up, however, reflecting the shift to online shopping.

The pay picture for retail employees is a mixed bag. Amazon's push into the holiday worker market three years ago and its decision to pay a minimum of $15 an hour pressured other companies fighting for seasonal staff to hike pay as well. Yet the current labor surplus lessens the case for elevated pay, and many large retailers declined to state their base wage. 

Retailers need workers to package up products and load them curbside, coinciding with the trend of buying items online and picking them up at the store. "I wonder if there's a little advantage there in terms of last-minute shopping," said Challenger of the notion that some holiday shoppers might prefer to pick up their gifts rather than wait to have them delivered.

Those hoping to land seasonal retail work might look to a warehouse or delivery jobs, but where one lives could make a difference. "There is a bit of a shift geographically in terms of these jobs," away from stores spread across the country, to warehouses and distribution centers typically located near large metro areas said Challenger.

Amazon has already hired 200,000 workers— the bulk of them in March and April as the pandemic spurred an explosion in orders — and plans to hire another 100,000 for the holidays. Walmart and Target, two major retailers that have successfully jumped into e-commerce, are also hiring. 

Retailers have so far announced 378,200 seasonal hires, according to Challenger, which tallied 702,000 retail jobs for 2019's holiday season. 

Here's a MoneyWatch rundown of major retailers that say they are hiring for the holidays and beyond, and what they say —or don't say — about how much they're paying: 

  • Amazon continues its hiring spree, saying in recent weeks it would hire 100,000 full- and part-time workers across the U.S. and Canada to sort customer orders and make deliveries. It pays at least $15 an hour and offers signing bonuses of up to $1,000 in some cities. Amazon last month also said it would be filling 33,000 technology and corporate positions, many paying salaries in the six figures.
  • Best Buy is hiring thousands of workers for jobs including sales, customer service, merchandising inventory, and car install technicians, along with positions in the retailer's distribution centers. The hourly pay starts at $15 an hour. 
  • Dick's Sporting Goods is hiring as many as 9,000 workers for the holidays, upping its seasonal workforce by more than 1,000 from last year, the retailer said last week. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based sporting goods retailer described its wages as "competitive," but would not state its hourly pay rate.
  • 1-800-Flowers.com plans to hire more than 10,000 to work in gift assembly and customer service —quadrupling its workforce to meet holiday demand. The majority of jobs are located in Illinois, Ohio, and Oregon, the gourmet foods and gift provider said. It did not return a request for information on wages paid.
  • Gap hired more than 50,000 workers in the first half of 2020 and is currently looking for 10,000 seasonal workers to pack and assemble merchandise and serve in customer contact centers. It's also looking to add staff to its more than 2,500 Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Intermix, Janie and Jack, and Old Navy stores. The company is not disclosing what it pays.
  • Hobby Lobby plans to hire as many as 14,000 seasonal employees for the holiday season by November 1. It's already hired around 10,500 at its 923 arts-and-crafts stores. The retailer raised its hourly minimum to $17 at the start of the month. 
  • Home Depot is hiring across the country right now but is not offering a headcount or information about hourly wages. 
  • JCPenney has not announced hiring plans or numbers this year, after hiring 37,000 last year. The retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, is selling its business to the mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners. 
  • Kohl's is also hiring seasonal workers for its 1,160 stores, distribution, and e-commerce fulfillment centers across the country, according to the retailer. The company isn't giving a specific headcount but expects hiring to be comparable to previous holiday seasons, which would put it at about 90,000. It describes its wages as "competitive," but is not providing specific figures.
  • Lowe's hired more than 10,000 workers for its home-improvement stores for the spring and summer seasons and continues to actively hire at its stores, distribution centers, and supply chain facilities across the U.S. It declined to elaborate on the number of available positions or offer minimum pay rates.
  • L Brands planned to hire up to 4,000 seasonal workers to bolster its distribution centers for the holidays, with pay ranging from $16.50 to $22 an hour. The holiday prep by the retailer reportedly came as the operator of the Victoria's Secret, Pink, and Bath & Body Works brands cut 850 positions in New York City and Ohio.
  • Michaels Companies last month said it would hire more than 16,000 seasonal workers across its U.S. and Canada stores and distribution centers. The arts-and-crafts retailer did not respond to requests for further information including on pay.
  • Sheetz is hiring more than 3,000 in a half-dozen states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio. The restaurant and convenience store chain needs additional staff for its more than 600 locations, as well as in its food operations, distribution services, construction and maintenance, and corporate departments. Starting pay ranges from $10 to $15 an hour.
  • Target is bringing on more than 130,000 seasonal workers to its nearly 1,900 stores and 43 distribution centers, on par with its holiday hiring in 2019. Target's starting pay is $15 an hour, up to $2 from last year. 
  • Walmart in September said it would hire more than 20,000 seasonal workers for its e-commerce fulfillment centers across the country. The positions include order fillers and power equipment operators, with starting pay ranging from $15.75 to $23.75 an hour. 

The $600 weekly unemployment benefit the federal government funded this year was a remarkably effective expansion of the safety net. It helped pay many workers more than their lost wages. It enabled families to spend more than during normal times. It even allowed households to put away savings as the economy was teetering.

Then the money stopped at the end of July. And it’s clear, looking back, what happened next: Workers quickly burned through the reserves that the aid had given them. Of the savings many households were able to build up over the course of four months of unusually generous government help, much of it was gone by the end of August.

$600 weekly

supplement expires

Change in Median Checking Account Balance From January

+120%

+100%

Unemployed who

received U.I. benefits

74%

decline

In May, these workers had twice as much money in their checking accounts as they did in January.

 

+80%

+60%

Employed

+40%

+20%

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

Note: End of month balances. The analysis only includes the unemployed who received unemployment insurance benefits through direct deposit. Households with multiple checking accounts are added together. Source: JPMorgan Chase Institute

That picture, using banking data from about 80,000 households receiving unemployment and analyzed by researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute and the University of Chicago, shows that unemployed workers steadily built up their checking account balances this summer. The median account had more than twice as much money in it at the end of July as at the start of the year. When the benefits expired, those balances swiftly dropped, wiping out most of the accumulated gains.

Unemployed workers — and the economy at large — were effectively living off the exhaust fumes of the CARES Act heading into the fall, said Peter Ganong, an economist at the University of Chicago who studied the data.

The researchers can’t yet tell what happened to these workers’ finances in September. But the reality is probably grim. If the $600 checks created something of a life preserver for jobless workers — protecting them for a time from Washington’s political dysfunction — that life preserver deflated quickly, Professor Ganong said.

“Perhaps it’s entirely deflated now,” he said.

Two and a half months after the benefits ended, Congress and the White House have been unable to reach an agreement on a broad stimulus package to revive them. President Trump signaled this week that he wants a big deal, against the wishes of many Senate Republicans, but hopes have dimmed for an agreement before the election.

“It’s honestly kind of staggering to me that Congress could leave us in this position,” said Daniel Lawson, who has been without a job in New York City since early in the pandemic. He believes he caught the coronavirus while working at a Trader Joe’s in March and is still living with its effects: the fatigue, the brain fog, the sense of smell that hasn’t returned to normal yet.

He has to find a job he can do remotely because of his lingering health problems, he said. And to do any remote work, he had to replace a computer that stopped working this summer. That took a chunk of his savings. Now, without the extra federal payments, he’s receiving just $180 a week from the state of New York.

“Right now I’m in a position where I’m worried about being able to continue paying rent,” Mr. Lawson, 32, said. “I’m in a position right now where even grocery shopping is pretty scary.”

Faced with dwindling savings and constant bills, most households face a dilemma.

“The choices are to stop spending on regular everyday purchases or stop making payments like mortgages, student loans, auto loans, credit cards,” Professor Ganong said. “That’s a terrible choice for a family to have to make. It’s a terrible choice for the macroeconomy.”

The analysis found unemployed workers did cut their spending after the $600 supplement ended, by an average of $93 a week across the month of August, compared with July. Professor Ganong suspects that the decline in spending might have continued in September, based on the dwindling savings workers had left.

$600 weekly

supplement expires

Weekly Spending

$700

$650

Unemployed who

received U.I. benefits

$600

$550

Employed

$500

$450

$400

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

Source: Diana Farrell, Peter Ganong, Fiona Greig, Max Liebeskind, Pascal Noel, Daniel Sullivan, Joseph Vavra, JPMorgan Chase Institute

The checking accounts used in the research, which were stripped of identifying information, come from Chase customers in 11 states where unemployment is paid out weekly, including California, New York, and Wisconsin. In the data, workers receiving unemployment had those benefits deposited directly into their accounts. Workers who didn’t receive such payments were treated as still employed. And there’s little sign in account balances that the unemployed were moving large sums in or out of these accounts to other assets like savings accounts, making these checking accounts a good measure of the resources workers built up and drew down.

The unemployed workers in the research don’t include those who receive benefits by prepaid debit cards rather than direct deposits. Those workers, who may not have bank accounts at all, probably have lower incomes than the ones captured in this data, and they may have even fewer assets to draw on at this point.

Other research supports the idea that families have been saving a significant share of their unemployment insurance checks. In a survey fielded by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in June, families reported setting aside nearly a quarter of their unemployment checks as savings. The New York Fed also found that nearly half of unemployment payments went toward paying down pre-existing debt.

Even modest-seeming drops in spending by the unemployed reflect difficult decisions at this stage. Charissa Ward, who lost the well-paying job she’d had for 15 years as a server at Disney World in Florida, has replaced some grocery store runs with trips to a food bank. And the school supplies she would normally buy for her three children were donated by co-workers from Disney instead when the $600 dried up on the eve of a new school year.

“It’s a mental strain on people emotionally, especially for someone like me that has worked since I was 15,” said Ms. Ward, who is 37. “I’ve never been in this situation.”

Allegra Troiano, who lives in Milwaukee, believed she was a few years away from retiring from her job preparing foreign students to study at American schools when the pandemic crushed the international education industry. Those students aren’t coming anymore, and it’s hard to know when they’ll be back. Ms Troiano, who is 64, was laid off in May, and for a while, over the summer she believed that the extra federal aid would keep her going until she could return to work.

“When they announced that they’ve cut off the $600, I said ‘This is unsustainable,’” she said. Now she fears she may be forced into early retirement, collecting pensions and Social Security earlier than she’d planned.

Those $600 checks, in retrospect, were for a time prolonging her career.