NRF Urges Labor Statistics Bureau To Rethink Retail Employment Metrics

NRF Urges Labor Statistics Bureau To Rethink Retail Employment Metrics

As of June 2017, the retail industry employed 12,883,200 people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But despite retailers losing 90,800 employees since the holiday season that concluded in January, the National Retail Federation (NRF) alleges that the Bureau’s employment data often comes from a misunderstanding of how to categorize retail jobs.

NRF has been in talks with the Bureau, urging the agency to rethink how retail jobs are counted and to take a more comprehensive approach to issuing industry statistics.

The Bureau uses the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) to categorize employment across industries. In a recent webinar, Mark Mathews, VP of Research Development and Industry Analysis at NRF, noted that the NAICS counts employees primarily by the function of the building they work in, and secondarily by the sector of the business they work for. This means that employees who work in warehouses, distribution centers or call centers will not be classified as “retail” employees.

“It’s not particularly a reflection of the retail industry as we see it,” Mathews said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s saying that for that particular month, storefronts jobs are down. But we know that retailers are investing a lot of capital in other areas. They’re investing in e-Commerce, warehouses and call centers, and none of that is being captured by the BLS as retail jobs. When a company like Walmart builds a fulfillment center and hires people like that, none of those jobs are being attributed to the retail industry.”

In the webinar, Mathews noted that the NAICS formatting prevents the retail industry from getting a statistical employment uplift from non-store based roles in fast-growing job segments, particularly in supply chain and technology.

Mathews also noted in an interview that today’s employment concerns go hand in hand with reporting about the retail bankruptcies that have been prevalent throughout 2017.

“If you look at the 10 largest bankruptcies in the past year, most of them were actually energy companies that many people have never heard of,” Mathews said. “No retail company made that list. The issue there is that when a retailer does go bankrupt, we know the name and the brand. There’s probably one that’s near us and it hits a lot harder…it’s more likely to make news.”

Retail as an industry seems to be getting the worst of both worlds: underreporting of growth in its workforce, and overreporting (due to high name recognition) of its financial woes.

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