By  on September 8, 2008

WASHINGTON — The U.S. retail employment picture was mixed in August, with specialty apparel stores adding 3,600 jobs to employ 1.499 million, while department stores slashed 6,900 positions to employ 1.512 million.

The national unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 percent from 5.7 percent in July, the Labor Department reported Friday.

“The shocker in the report was the jump in the unemployment rate,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for Global Insight.

Overall, the economy shed 84,000 jobs, more than expected for the month, observers said. According to the Labor Department, 60,000 jobs were cut in July and 100,000 jobs were lost in June. Both figures were revised downward from initial reports.

Domestic textile producers broke even, as textile mills, which produce mainly apparel fabric, added 700 jobs and textile product mills, which produce home furnishing fabric, cut 700 positions. Textile mills employed 150,200 workers and textile product mills employed 147,700.

Apparel manufacturers added 200 jobs to employ a total of 195,800 workers in August.

“I’m not convinced that we’re in a recession, but I am pretty sure we are in a labor market recession,” said Richard Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research Corp.

The August results mark the eighth consecutive month of job declines, he said. None of the declines were of a huge magnitude, Yamarone said, but overall, the economy has shed more than 600,000 jobs since January.

“That’s over a half-a-million people looking for jobs that cannot spend money,” he said. “That hurts the consumer sector and certainly dampens consumer attitudes. Obviously, it’s not a good thing.”

It is important to keep in mind that employment figures are a lagging number, Yamarone said, meaning that they are the last to respond to either positive or negative turns in the economy. There have been some positive indicators reported in the last month, including a gross domestic product growth improvement to 3.3 percent for the second quarter.

Economists are split over where the economy will go from here. Global Insight’s Gault said the GDP growth was “just a head-fake” in light of the employment results. Yamarone said it is still possible that the economy has slightly improved, but employment figures don’t yet reflect that.

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