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Industry spotlight: Retail hiring

December 19, 2023

by Liv Wang
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Year-end holiday hiring is a longtime retail tradition. Merchants typically count on front-line seasonal hires to push sales and meet annual targets. But many employers cut back on their year-end payrolls during the coronavirus pandemic, a change that has endured.

Some businesses that adapted to the pandemic with tools to reduce human contact have kept those systems in place, and rising labor costs have put pressure on headcount. The median hourly base pay for new retail hires was $11.50 in November 2019. In November 2023, it was $15,  a 30 percent increase.

After rising swiftly during the early stages of the pandemic recovery, median hourly wages plateaued at $15 starting in January 2022.

Before this holiday season, large employer job creation had been weak, with the year-over-year change of their share of new retail hires falling since May 2022. This year, however, large employers have upped their seasonal hiring relative to smaller employers.

As 2023 draws to a close, here’s a look at the state of U.S. retail hiring.

Hiring trends

October, November, and December are peak hiring months for retail workers. Hiring slowed during the pandemic and has remained lower than it was in 2019, but there were more retail trade new hires this past November than a year ago.

Employer size

Employers with between 250 and 499 employees offer the highest median hourly wage, and this year they also posted the highest year-over-year wage increase for new hires. Large employers offer new retail hires the lowest median hourly wage.

Compared to 2022, the share of new hires coming from large employers grew 4.7 percent in November. The share of hiring by small employers fell 14.7 percent.

Table 1: Retail trade wages, wage growth, and growth in share of new hires

Souce: ADP data.

Employer size
1-19 employees 20-49 employees 50-249 employees 250-499 employees 500+ employees
Median hourly wage
Oct 2023 $15.50   $15.74   $15.80   $16.00   $15.00 
Nov 2023  $15.74   $15.50   $16.00   $16.00   $14.50 
Median hourly wage YoY change
Oct 2023 3.3% 4.9% 1.9% 6.7% 5.3%
Nov 2023 4.9% 3.3% 3.2% 6.7% 3.6%
YoY change in share of new hires by employer size
Oct 2023 -4.8% 1.5% -1.9% -2.7% 1.1%
Nov 2023 -14.7% -12.4% -4.2% -11.2% 4.7%

Gender 

While more women are hired for seasonal retail jobs, their median hourly pay is a dollar less than what men earn. In fact, the share of women hired during the year-end shopping season is higher than at any other time of the year. The percentage of female new hires is at its lowest in January.

Table 2: Retail trade new hires by gender

Source: ADP data.

Women Men
Share of new hires 55.8% 44.2%
Median hourly wage $14.50 $15.50
Median hourly wage YoY change 3.6% 3.3%

Age

More than half of holiday retail new hires are 25 or younger. This group also has the lowest median wage of all retail hires, and had the smallest year-over-year wage gain in 2023. Only summer hiring has a lower median age for new retail hires.

Table 3: November 2023 retail trade new hires by age group

Source: ADP data.

Age 16-24 Age 25-34 Age 35-54 Age 55-85
Share of new hires 52.4% 22.1% 19.5% 6.0%
Median hourly wage $14.00 $15.80 $16.00 $15.50
Median hourly wage YoY change 1.1% 1.9% 3.2% 3.3%