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Retailers are fighting joblessness

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NEW YORK — After the economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, job growth and unemployment rates are key indicators of the nation’s progress toward recovery, and the mass market retail industry is doing its part to help the rebound.

When 20 million jobs evaporated last spring as the economy shut down in response to the coronavirus outbreak and unemployment shot up to nearly 15%, major retailers such as Walmart and Target Corp. quickly announced large-scale hiring plans that included temporary as well as permanent positions. While much of the retail industry suffered a body blow from the pandemic, those retailers that were deemed essential have, by and large, experienced accelerated growth, and a number of chains looking to maintain their momentum are adding to their payrolls and offering increased pay and benefits.

For example, earlier this month Kroger Co. announced it would hold its first hybrid hiring event with the goal of signing on 10,000 employees across its retail, e-commerce, pharmacy, manufacturing and logistics operations. Interviews were conducted both virtually and in-store.

“The Kroger Family of Companies is one of the largest employers in the country, and our long-standing culture of opportunity has created an environment where people, whether it be an intern, stocker or pharmacy technician, come for a job and stay for a career,” said Tim Massa, senior vice president and chief people officer.

Also this month, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeastern Grocers Inc. announced that it is hiring full- and part-time associates across its entire five-state footprint. Like Kroger, Southeastern is emphasizing the career potential for employees who start as hourly workers in stores, using its executive vice president of store growth, Eddie Garcia, as an example. Garcia began his career 43 years ago as a bagger and now oversees the operations of more than 400 grocery stores. His success is by no means unique in the grocery business.

For its part, Amazon revealed in May that it would hire 75,000 people in its fulfillment and logistics network across the United States and Canada. The online behemoth also recently announced pay increases for workers in its fulfillment and transportation networks.

Earlier this month Amazon unveiled its Amazon Returnship Program, intended to provide professionals who have been out of the workforce for at least a year with a return path to work. The program calls for hiring 1,000 professionals over the coming years for an initial 16-week paid working opportunity in several different areas of the company, including operations and finance.

During the first 16 weeks, participants work remotely from their homes and are provided child and elder care assistance when needed. After that period, they will have an opportunity to move into full-time positions at Amazon.

Noting that 4.5 million jobs held by women have been lost since February 2020, with nearly 2 million women leaving the workforce altogether, Amazon expects that at least 75% of the participants in the program will be women.

While the official unemployment rate in May was 5.8%, well above the pre-pandemic figure of 3.5%, and the total of unemployed was 9.3 million, both numbers represented improvement, and there are indications that the labor market is tightening.


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