By  on August 4, 2013

WASHINGTON — Retailers picked up the pace of hiring in July, adding 46,800 jobs as employment gains in the overall economy continued at a steady pace, the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly employment report showed Friday.

Apparel and accessories stores added 4,300 jobs to employ 1.45 million in July. General merchandise stores, including discounters and department stores, added 9,100 jobs to employ 3.1 million. Department stores added 200 jobs to employ 1.5 million in July.

The overall economy added 162,000 jobs in July, coming in below economists’ expectations, while the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percent to 7.4 percent.

“Overall, the report was a bit disappointing relative to expectations, but I think that was not true for retail, where we had the strongest month-to-month job growth since last November,” said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics.

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Hoyt noted that the 9,100 increase in general merchandise store jobs was the best growth since April. Apparel specialty store job gains were modest, although below the pace of growth in the prior two months, while department stores “did not contribute much” to the retail gains, Hoyt said, with their “third straight month of minimal job gains.”

“I think one of the big ongoing factors for department stores is the whole issue of lack of physical expansion,” Hoyt added. “Some of the big players, including Wal-Mart and to a lesser extent Target, are more interested in opening supercenters, which are not classified as department stores. In addition, a number of department stores are struggling a bit with J.C. Penney being the most prominent example.”

Douglas Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said about 25 percent of monthly, job gains came from the overall retail sector, “suggesting that the current pace of consumer spending remains sustainable.”

“While average hourly earnings were down very slightly in July, overall earnings are growing slightly faster than inflation (as measured by the personal consumption deflator), suggesting that the current consumer spending contribution to economic growth will continue,” Handler added.

Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, said the “employment trend is positive yet lackluster,” adding that NRF expects the economy to pick up in the second half.

In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, apparel employment fell 800 to 140,700 in July. Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns added 200 jobs to employ 114,900, while mills making home furnishings products trimmed 200 jobs to employ 113,600.

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