WASHINGTON — August employment figures pointed to a long slog to full economic recovery, as specialty retailers cut positions while department stores added a handful of jobs and the overall unemployment rate rose slightly, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday.
Specialty store retailers eliminated 1,200 jobs last month to employ 1.39 million, while department stores added 300 positions to employ 1.49 million. General merchandise stores, which include department stores, eliminated 4,700 positions to employ 2.95 million, the Labor Department said.
Nationwide payrolls declined by 54,000, better than consensus expectations. The job decline was driven by the loss of Census jobs, economists said. The unemployment rate edged up to 9.6 percent, in line with analysts’ predictions.
In remarks delivered in the Rose Garden on Friday, President Obama said the economy is “moving in a positive direction,” but that the process of creating jobs needs to move faster. Obama said he would unveil details of plans to strengthen the economy, such as extending middle class tax cuts and investing in economic sectors where job growth potential is highest, in the coming weeks.
The private sector “continued to trend up modestly,” adding 67,000 jobs in August, according to the Labor Department, the eighth straight month it has done so.
An increase of only 67,000 jobs so far into the economic recovery is “very poor,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight, but in light of low expectations and fears of a double dip recession it can be seen as good news.
“It suggests that the recovery may be wobbly, but that it is still staggering forward,” Gault said.
Charles McMillion, president and chief economist with MBG Information Services, said, “Friday’s report shows stagnation remains in the jobs market.”
There are still about 30 million people looking for work, which could have long-term impacts, he said.
There is little agreement about whether a full recovery has taken hold. The amount of private employer jobs added in August is “far below” even the minimum of 125,000 jobs a month that would be required to absorb new entrants into the work force, said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.
Apparel manufactures expanded payrolls by 400 to 164,900. Textile mills, which produce apparel fabric, eliminated 1,800 jobs to employ 122,100. Textile product mills, which manufacture mostly home furnishing and industrial fabrics, cut 200 jobs to employ 123,000.