WASHINGTON — U.S. department stores slashed 10,800 jobs in September, the largest decline in the retail sector, while specialty apparel stores added 2,600 positions.

For the first time in nearly two decades, specialty stores employed more than department stores, with a total of 1.5009 million, 600 more than the employee count at department stores.

“Call it the death of the department store,” said Richard Yamarone, director of economic research for Argus Research Corp.

Department store staff levels peaked in 2001 and have declined since then, while specialty stores have increased the size of their workforce, he said.

The apparel manufacturing sector continued, to lose jobs. Apparel manufacturers cut 2,400 jobs, while textile mills that make apparel fabric, shed 1,300 jobs. Textile product mills that make home furnishing fabrics expanded payrolls by 200 jobs.

The overall economy lost 159,000 jobs, the largest single monthly decline this year. Between January and August, the average employment decline was 75,000, according to the Labor Department. The downward plunge was fueled by steep job losses in the retail trade, construction and manufacturing segments. Unemployment was unchanged in September from the prior month at 6.1 percent.

“The employment report is just the latest in a series of indicators showing that the economy was deteriorating rapidly as the third quarter progressed,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. Economist at Global Insight.

For complete coverage, see Monday’s WWD.