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Apparel and accessories specialty stores and general merchandise retailers boosted payrolls in August, as the overall economy added 96,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Specialty store employment rose 2.8 percent last month to employ 1.38 million people, while general merchandise store employment gained 1 percent, with 3.06 million jobs in the sector. Job growth at department stores, a category within the general merchandise category, was flat at 1.52 million employed.

Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said, “July’s jobs report hinted at an acceleration in the labor market after a weak second quarter. The August report has dashed those hopes.”

Gault called the job growth “anemic,” and said “even the drop in the unemployment rate was bad news because it happened for the wrong reason — a declining labor force rather than rising employment.”

“Uncertainties over the strength of global growth, the euro zone crisis, the fiscal cliff and the November elections are giving plenty of reasons for caution,” he said. “We expect subdued monthly job creation in the 100,000-to-150,000 region over the rest of the year.”

Gault noted that since Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke identified the labor market as a “grave concern” in his recent remarks, “today’s weak report should seal the deal for more easing from the Fed on Sept. 13.” Gault expects the Fed to extend its “low-rates” guidance through mid-2015, and to launch a “Quantitative Easing 3” program of asset purchases concentrated on mortgage-backed securities worth $500 billion to $600 billion.

“We don’t think these measures will be very effective in boosting growth, but for the Fed, it’s a question of trying to do what it can,” Gault added.

The number of people working in apparel manufacturing fell 1.5 percent to 145,600 in the month. Textile mills making apparel fabrics employed 118,800 people in August, a 0.6 percent decline, while employment at textile product mills that make industrial and home furnishings fabrics dipped 0.1 percent to 113,000.

In the overall economy, the Labor Department said employment increased in food services and drinking places, professional and technical services and health care.

With jobs at the forefront of the race for the White House, both sides put their spin on the employment report.

House Speaker John Boehner said, “This report underscores President Obama’s failed promises to get our economy moving again.”

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said, “When President Obama came into office, the economy was in a free fall, credit markets were frozen and our nation was bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. We’ve now added back 4.6 million private sector jobs over the last 30 months, including nearly 2 million in the last year alone. An economic crisis that was decades in the making will not be solved overnight, but our recovery remains on a stable trajectory of positive job growth. Smart and steady wins the race.”