WASHINGTON — Discounters and department stores added jobs to payrolls in September, while apparel specialty stores cut staff and overall employment grew modestly, the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly employment report showed Tuesday.
The overall economy added 148,000 new jobs in September, falling slightly below economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate edged down to 7.2 percent from 7.3 percent in August. Total retail employment rose 20,800 in September compared with August on a seasonally adjusted basis. General merchandise stores, including discounters and department stores, provided a big boost to the overall retail employment number, adding 6,800 jobs to employ 3.1 million. Department stores added 500 positions to employ 1.5 million last month, while apparel and accessories stores trimmed 7,200 jobs to employ 1.45 million.
“With only 148,000 new jobs added in September, this employment report showed that the economy was in a mediocre condition just prior to the [federal government] shutdown,” said Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “October’s employment report also will remain so-so amid private sector employers’ concerns about hiring amid the shutdown and possible debt ceiling spending restrictions. As a result, real GDP growth in the fourth quarter is also likely to remain below 2 percent.”
The “silver lining” in the September employment report — delayed by two weeks because of the federal government shutdown — was jobs gains across many industry sectors, including retail, and housing and commercial construction, Handler noted.
“Retailers added 21,000 jobs in many different retail areas, underscoring the importance of consumer spending in a slow-growth economy,” Handler said. “State and local governments added 29,000 education jobs, allowing for a ray of hope that an era of very tight budgets may be easing somewhat.”
Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics, said apparel and accessories stores did “relatively poorly” in hiring last month, while department stores saw their first employment gain in three months — a small gain of 500 jobs.
Hoyt noted that, despite the monthly dip, apparel and accessories store employment is up 38,200 above September 2012, while employment at department stores was 13,400 above a year ago and employment at general merchandise stores was up 80,300. He added that overall retail employment, which grew by 20,800, was the “weakest growth since April.”
Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, said the pace of retail hiring has slowed, in line with the rest of the labor market.
“Americans need to believe we are on a solid path out of this troubled economy and so far, they haven’t been given any reason to believe that, thus impacting their spending decisions and retailers’ ability to increase their payrolls,” Kleinhenz said.
In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, apparel employment fell 300 to 140,700 in September. Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns trimmed 600 jobs to employ 113,600, while mills making home furnishings products cut 200 jobs to employ 114,100.