Specialty Stores Boost Payrolls in February

Unemployment rate inches up to 6.7 percent.

WASHINGTON — Apparel and accessories stores boosted payrolls in February while department stores shed jobs, as the overall pace of job growth remained modest, the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly employment report showed Friday.

Specialty stores added a seasonally adjusted 4,300 jobs to employ 1.4 million last month, while department stores trimmed 6,600 jobs from payrolls to employ 1.3 million. General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, cut 5,400 jobs to employ 3.1 million in February.

In the overall economy, employers added 175,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate inched up to 6.7 percent in February from 6.6 percent in January. Economists said the unemployment rate rose in great part over hesitant hiring during the spate of sever winter weather that gripped the country.

Overall retail employment fell 4,100 to 15.2 million. Apparel and accessories stores bucked the trend with a job gain, but it came on the heels of a loss of 8,600 jobs in January, noted Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics.

“As we start to move into the spring season, it may be that weather either discouraged retailers starting spring hiring or simply made it impractical because of logistical challenges,” said Hoyt, adding that he considers the slowdown as a “temporary phenomenon and nothing to worry about.”

Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, said, “Retailers continued to rearrange and maximize their payrolls and inventories following the holiday shopping season. This decline should be temporary in nature and viewed as a speed bump. We really need to lift the snow screen to adequately measure the economy and jobs situation.”

Kleinhenz said he remains optimistic for continued gains in employment, basing his outlook on growth in construction jobs and building material employment, which he said “suggests a forthcoming improvement in residential and nonresidential spending, along with household and business confidence.”

In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, mills making apparel fabrics and yarns added 1,100 jobs to employ 117,500, while mills making home furnishings products trimmed 300 jobs to employ 110,700. Apparel employment fell 900 to 136,700 in February.

Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said, “February’s adverse weather will probably shave first-quarter growth by around 0.2 percentage points — enough to matter, but not enough to materially reshape the overall economic outlook.”