WASHINGTON — Retailers continued to hire at a strong pace in August as merchants boosted payrolls for the back-to-school season, while employment in the overall economy grew modestly, the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly employment report showed Friday. Overall retail employment rose 44,000 in August compared with July as apparel and accessories stores added 13,700 to employ 1.47 million. General merchandise stores, including discounters and department stores, boosted payrolls by 9,400 to employ 3.2 million. Department stores added 2,100 jobs to employ 1.5 million in August. “There was a nice gain in employment for apparel and accessories stores. It was the second strongest gain since last November and marked a string of four good months,” said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics. Hoyt said general merchandise stores have been “doing fairly” well in terms of job growth since February. “There have been no negatives in that category this year,” Hoyt said. “You have to go back to December to find a decline in employment so the trend is one of improvement.” Department stores, which spent 2011 and 2012 cutting jobs, have had a better year this year, Hoyt said. “We have had job gains every month this year, which for that segment is a pretty significant accomplishment,” he noted. “At least they are hiring. For that segment, merely saying they are up and not down is a positive compared to the last couple of years.” “While the jobs numbers weren’t as strong as anticipated, they indicate a more positive trend,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “We are expecting further signs of strengthening in the second half of the year. Retailers are making headway but challenges remain. Slow wage growth and downward jobs revisions continue to indicate a reluctant economy.” The overall economy added 169,000 jobs in August, which fell below economists’ expectations, while the unemployment rate edged down 0.1 percent to 7.3 percent. Douglas Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said a downward revision of 74,000 in the June and July employment data added “a negative spin” to the August employment report. But he noted that consumer spending buoyed the retail segment and helped it buck the trend in employment growth. “Without the consumer-spending contribution, we would really be in a much poorer economic place than we are,” Handler said. “The job growth that we are seeing here [in the three retail segments] is largely a reflection of consumer-spending growth…suggesting essentially that many households do have a lot of disposable income and that disposable income is one factor that is driving job growth there.” In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, apparel employment rose 200 to 141,600 in August. Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns trimmed 200 jobs to employ 114,300, while mills making home furnishings products added 500 jobs to employ 114,500.

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