WASHINGTON — Retailers boosted payrolls in November as the overall economy posted a steady employment gain and the unemployment rate fell, the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly employment report showed Friday.
Clothing and accessories stores, which had shed jobs in the past three months, reversed the trend and added 2,000 seasonally adjusted jobs to employ 1.4 million in November. General merchandise stores, including discounters and department stores, added 13,800 jobs in November to employ 3.1 million, following a gain of 7,800 last month. Department stores increased employment by 4,300 to employ 1.5 million.
“This is the first gain in four months for apparel specialty stores, although it’s not much to speak of with 2,000 jobs,” said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics of Moody’s Analytics. “They’ve been struggling with three consecutive months of declines.”
On a year-over-year basis, apparel specialty store employment was down 27,300, Hoyt said, indicating some softness in employment growth in that sector.
Hoyt said the general merchandise and department store categories have “reversed” declines in employment they posted last year.
Employment at general merchandise stores was up 88,700 in November compared with November 2012, while department store employment was 24,000 above year-ago levels, Hoyt said.
“The trend has probably been one of modest improvement in the retail sector, which is certainly in line with overall employment gains,” Hoyt said. “But there is still a lot of uncertainty out there revolving around federal fiscal policy,” he warned, noting that businesses are keeping a close eye on whether Congress can reach a deal on the federal budget by mid-January to avert another government shutdown. An impasse in Congress over spending levels led to a 16-day government shutdown in October.
“Employment is steadily improving month-by-month showing that the economy is primed for growth,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “While we are far from fully-recovered, we are seeing a more consistent picture of the market, which should support further economic and employment growth in 2014. The positive jobs report may put additional pressure on the Federal Reserve as they decide the fate of the taper [which generally means reducing the size of its bond-buying program, a tool used to stimulate the economy].”
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