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General Merchandise Stores Lead Retail Job Growth

Overall jobs numbers disappoint.

WASHINGTON — General merchandise stores posted the biggest gain in retail-sector employment growth in January, as the overall pace of jobs growth slowed and the unemployment rate dipped, the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly employment report showed Friday.

General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, added a seasonally adjusted 7,000 jobs to employ 3.1 million last month, while department stores increased employment by 1,800 jobs to employ 1.35 million. Apparel and accessories stores trimmed 1,900 jobs from payrolls to employ 1.4 million, coming off two months of strong jobs gains.

In the overall economy, employers added 113,000 jobs in January, which fell below last year’s average monthly gain of 194,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent in December.

Economists largely blamed the modest growth in employment on severe weather that impacted a large swath of the country in January. Retail employment overall fell 12,900 to 15.2 million.

But some categories within retail didn’t feel Mother Nature’s fury as much as others.

“It doesn’t look like [general merchandise stores] were impacted by weather at all,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics.

Hoyt noted that employment at general merchandise stores was up 81,500 compared with a year ago, while department store employment was down 5,300 over the same time period. Hoyt said the decline was an improvement over last year, when employment in the category was down 200,000 compared with the previous year.

“This is a dramatic improvement over early last year,” he said. “General merchandise stores had a big turnaround from a year ago as well.”

Apparel and accessories store employment was down 12,200 compared with January 2012.

“Once again the jobs report was disappointing and weather was a major factor,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “Even though employment gains in the retail sector declined for the month due to severe winter weather and additional seasonal factors, the economy is primed for a rebound. The decreases in retail jobs were mostly localized and focused on specific categories, especially sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores.”

In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, apparel employment fell 400 to 138,700. Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns cut 1,900 jobs to employ 115,900, while mills making home furnishings products trimmed 400 to employ 111,500.