WASHINGTON — The pace of hiring in the overall economy picked up strongly in April as apparel and accessories stores and discounters posted healthy jobs gains, while department stores continued to show weakness, the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly employment report showed Friday.
Specialty stores added a seasonally adjusted 10,500 jobs to employ 1.4 million in April, while department stores shed 4,500 jobs to employ 1.3 million. General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, added 8,200 jobs to employ 3.1 million last month.
“Apparel and accessories stores are on track with the modest growth we’ve seen,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics. “They are coming off of a small negative in March of 1,100, but when you average things out, they are running in the midsingle digits [percentage gains] per month.”
Hoyt said there is “potential for improvement everywhere” in the second quarter as the economy “gathers momentum, which we are anticipating.”
The department-store sector continued to lose jobs.
“Again discounters were driving the growth in the general-merchandise category since very clearly department stores have been down for three straight months now and are clearly trending lower,” Hoyt said.
Overall retail employment rose 34,500 to employ 15.3 million, the strongest increase since December, Hoyt noted. The overall retail sector posted declines in January and February.
“After a weak report on growth in the overall economy [on Thursday], the strong jobs report shows that the backlash from the weather-induced slowdown between December and March impacted economic activity, but was not a foreboding sign of what is to come,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “We expect a rebound in economic activity. While only select sectors such as apparel and general merchandise reported higher results, we expect retailers to be stocked and prepared for one of the busiest times of the year — summer.”
In the overall economy, employers added 288,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent from 6.7 percent in March, giving a big boost to the economy at the start of the second quarter.
“We are expecting a strong second quarter and really a pretty strong last three quarters of the year,” Hoyt said. “We got a bounce back in the second quarter from the activity loss due to all of the adverse weather we suffered and we have the fact there won’t be nearly as much of a federal fiscal drag going forward.”
Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS, called the overall employment gain “surprisingly high and welcome news for the economy.”
“Not only was there good job creation, the breadth of jobs creation was solid,” Handler said. “Most major industry sectors saw significant improvements in employment levels. No doubt that a portion of these gains were attributable to a catch-up from this winter’s poor weather, but the employment gains in many service industries not affected by the weather confirmed the underlying health of the economy.”
In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, mills making apparel fabrics and yarns added 300 jobs to employ 117,400, while mills making home-furnishings products added 200 jobs to employ 111,500. Apparel employment fell 800 to 134,900 in April.