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Holidays Spark Jump in Specialty Store Jobs

U.S. specialty stores, boosting payrolls for the holidays, added 11,400 seasonally adjusted jobs last month, while department stores continued their...

WASHINGTON — U.S. specialty stores, boosting payrolls for the holidays, added 11,400 seasonally adjusted jobs last month, while department stores continued their long-term slide, cutting 9,300 jobs.

This story first appeared in the December 10, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Apparel manufacturers had a surprising gain of 400 jobs in November and textile manufacturers narrowed job losses to 1,100 last month, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Overall, employers added 94,000 jobs to payrolls in November, compared with 170,000 in October. The gain was driven by increases in retail, health services, professional services and the leisure and hospitality sectors. Those increases offset job losses in manufacturing and construction. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.7 percent, its level for the past three months.

The bellwether economy figures were released before Fed policy makers meet Wednesday, when they are expected to cut interest rates by at least a quarter point. Although job creation exceeded most forecasts, many economists were still cautious because of the housing slump, subprime mortgage crisis, credit crisis and higher energy costs.

“Jobs growth near 100,000, combined with a steady unemployment rate, does not signal an economy dipping into recession and provides important support for consumer incomes,” Nigel Gault, U.S. economist for Global Insight, wrote in a report. “Over the next few months, we expect job growth to slow substantially, but stay positive, as the economy slows under the weight of further declines in housing and slower growth in consumer spending.”

Apparel and accessories stores, after posting the jobs gain, employed 1.47 million people last month, while department stores continued to shed jobs and employed 1.53 million people.

“I think what happened is not only the seasonal holiday [hiring], but also a shift in purchases of clothing this year because it took awhile for the weather to cool down, so there were pretty poor purchases of apparel earlier this fall, and now there is more seasonal weather,” Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist with Moody’s Investors Service, said.

But the apparel and textile industry continues to downsize in the face of fierce foreign competition, although the sector’s pace of job losses in November slowed. Apparel manufacturers added 400 jobs to employ 210,700. Textile mills cut 800 jobs to 166,100 last month, and textile product mills employment fell by 300 jobs to 151,700.

“It now appears that job losses in 2007 will be less severe than last year for the textile segments and only slightly worse for apparel,” Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services, said in a report.

But McMillion warned that demand in the U.S. has been weakening, which could have an adverse impact on employment.

“Unfortunately, I do not expect the current industry job stability to continue as demand growth slows further and imports continue to displace producers,” he added.