WASHINGTON — The nation’s unemployment rate climbed to 6 percent in November, with job losses occurring throughout the economy, including at retailers that typically add workers for the Christmas season, according to the monthly jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department.
Up from October’s 5.7 percent, the unemployment rate is the highest in almost nine years, when the economy was emerging from recession.
U.S. companies trimmed payrolls last month by a total of 40,000 workers. Included were domestic apparel factories that laid off 1,000 workers to employ a seasonally adjusted 424,000, which is 27,000 below a year ago. U.S. textile mills shed 2,000 workers, also 27,000 below November 2001.
Meanwhile, apparel and accessory stores dropped 4,000 workers from their payrolls to employ 1.177 million, which is also 4,000 below a year-ago. General merchandise stores, including mass retailers, reported 20,000 fewer workers last month to employ 2.831 million, or 46,000 less than November 2001. Department stores last month employed 2.488 million, which was 17,000 fewer than October and 52,000 below year-ago payrolls.
Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research, saw positive signs for retailers, as well as the economy as a whole, in the jobs report. He said the retail job decline was because of companies gaining productivity through technology.
“They simply didn’t hire as many part-time workers for the holiday season,” Steidtmann said. “Retailers are being very aggressive keeping their costs under control and that should be very favorable for retailer profitability.”
Despite the higher unemployment rate, Steidtmann forecast economic growth in the last quarter of 3 percent. As one positive signal for employment, he noted the number of workers filing for unemployment claims in recent months declining.
Andrew Hodge, senior vice president of Global Insights, based in Philadelphia, said the increase in the unemployment rate reflects an economy seesawing from quarter-to-quarter.
This story first appeared in the December 9, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.