Strong Retail Sales, Unfilled Jobs and Inflation Remain: October 11 – 15

Retail sales rose in September, but employers there and elsewhere are unable to fill their open jobs. Here are the five four things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 15. 


Retail sales were solid in September (although some of the rise reflects inflation). Retail and food services sales grew 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted $625.4 billion. It is worth noting that the Census Bureau does not adjust these data for price variations and (as noted below) inflation has taken hold of the U.S. economy. Nonetheless, July – September sales were 14.9 percent ahead of the same three months in 2020, although off from April and June. Sales at auto dealers/parts stores and gas stations swelled 0.5 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. Net of both, core retail sales rose 0.7 percent in September, with July – September sales up 13.8 percent from their year-ago comparable. In September, sales rose at retailers focused on sporting goods/hobbies (+3.7 percent), apparel (+1.1 percent), groceries (+0.7 percent), furniture (+0.2 percent), and building materials (+0.1 percent). Department stores saw sales grow 0.9 percent, while restaurants/bars enjoyed a 0.3 percent bump in sales.  The only major retail categories experiencing a sales decline were health/personal care stores (-1.4 percent) and electronics/appliance retailers (-0.9 percent). 

The number of unfilled jobs remained at near-record levels as summer ended, while even more people left their jobs. Nonfarm employers had a seasonally adjusted 10.439 million open jobs at the end of August. While down from a record 11.098 million open jobs in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data series was up a startling 61.8 percent from a year earlier. Industries with at least a million open jobs were retail, professional/business services, health care/social assistance, and accommodation/food services. Hiring slowed by 439,000 to 6.322 million, which was off 1.7 percent from a year earlier. Rising was the number of separations, growing by 205,000 to 6.003 million (+22.5 percent). Reflecting the degree to which workers have plenty of options in the labor market, a record 4.270 million people quit their jobs in August. This was up 242,000 for the month and a staggering 34.9 percent from August 2020. Conversely, layoffs slowed by 80,000 to 1.343 million (-14.6 percent versus August 2020).

Energy and food led to another jump in consumer inflation in September. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent during the month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data series has surged 5.4 percent over the past year. Energy prices rose 1.3 percent (gasoline: +1.2 percent) while food CPI jumped 0.9 percent (beef: +4.8 percent). Net of energy and food, core CPI increased 0.2 percent (up from a 0.1 percent bump in August with the 12-month comparable at +4.0 percent). Prices gained for new vehicles (+1.3 percent), shelter (+0.4 percent), and medical care commodities (+0.3 percent). Falling were prices for apparel (-1.1 percent), used cars/trucks (-0.7 percent), transportation services (-0.5 percent), and medical care services (-0.1 percent). 

The same held for wholesale prices. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand grew a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even though this was the smallest single-month gain in wholesale prices since last December, PPI has surged 8.6 percent over the past year. The core measure of wholesale prices—net of energy, food, and trade services—eked out a slight 0.1 percent increase in September but were 5.9 percent above year-ago levels. PPI for goods rose 1.3 percent (its biggest jump since May), with prices up for energy (+2.8 percent), foods (+2.0 percent), and core goods (+0.6 percent). Services PPI advanced 0.2 percent, held back by a 4.0 percent drop for transportation/warehousing. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:

  • Jobless Claims (Week ending October 9, 2021, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 293,000, -36,000 vs. the previous week, -540,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 334,250 (-59.2% vs. the same week a year earlier). 
  • NFIB Small Business Optimism (September 2021, Index (1986=100), seasonally adjusted): 99.1 (vs. August 2021: 100.1; vs. September 2020: 104.0).
  • Import Prices (September 2021, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.4% vs. August 2021; +9.2% vs. September 2020.  Nonfuel Imports: Unchanged vs. August 2021; +5.0% vs. September 2020. 
  • Export Prices (September 2021, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.1% vs. August 2021; +16.3% vs. September 2020. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.3% vs. August 2021; +15.1% vs. September 2020.
  • Business Inventories (August 2021, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.084 trillion (+0.6% vs. July 2021, +7.4% vs. August 2020). 

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.

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