Employment report: The Christmas bump

Tens of thousands of temporary holiday hires by companies like FedEx might be padding December’s big jobs numbers.

The Pulse is down today on the realization that 42,000 of December’s hires were likely of the temporary variety.

"Our nation's strengthening labor market posted broad-based growth in the month of December." Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced "Nonfarm payroll employment added 200,000 jobs, exceeding expectations, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, its lowest level in nearly three years.”

Great news, no doubt.

But the devil is often in the details. In the Bureau of Labor Statistics report is the following bit of data: “Employment in transportation and warehousing rose sharply in December (+50,000). Almost all of the gain occurred in the couriers and messengers industry (+42,000); seasonal hiring was particularly strong in December.”

According to Comscore, Americans spent $37.2 billion online in November and December (15 percent more than we did during the same window in 2010), and companies like FedEx staffed up handle the sheer volume. The thing is, the “messengers industry” typically staffs back down again once the Christmas cheer has dissipated.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects no long-term hiring growth in the “messengers and couriers” between the years 2008 to 2018. None. This would indicate that FedEx and friends don’t intend to convert these employees from seasonal to full-time, and unless we quickly invent a present-buying holiday for January, December’s big gains may be an anomaly.

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.

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