WASHINGTON — General merchandise stores and department stores posted employment gains in September, while specialty stores cut jobs, in line with what economists are calling disappointing employment growth in the overall economy, the monthly U.S. Labor Department report revealed Friday.
Department stores added a seasonally adjusted 2,500 jobs to payrolls to employ 1.32 million, while general merchandise stores, a category that includes discounters and department stores, boosted payrolls by 10,000 to employ 3.19 million. Apparel and accessories stores trimmed 1,800 jobs to employ 1.39 million.
“Today’s employment release comes as a disappointment for the broad economy, but not necessarily for retail as retailers have generated many new jobs for American households,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “We’ve witnessed a very resilient economy thus far this year and retailers continue to gear up for future spending by consumers as we head into the all-important holiday season.”
Kleinhenz said retailers are currently in a “wait-and-see mode” on the broader outlook for economic growth but are “cautiously optimistic” about continued improvements in consumer spending, which he noted could come directly from future improvements in the labor market.
In manufacturing, employment in textile mills making apparel fabrics and yarns cut 300 jobs to employ 116,700, while employment at mills making home furnishings products added 200 jobs to employ 115,000. Apparel manufacturers trimmed 800 jobs from payrolls to employ 135,600.
In the broader economy, employers added 142,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.1 percent last month.
“The September jobs report was uniformly disappointing,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight. “Not only was jobs growth in the month well below the yearly average, the gains in the prior two months were trimmed by a total of 59,000. The simultaneous declines in labor force participation and hours worked are also reasons to worry. Last but not least, stagnant wages are worrisome.”
Behravesh said the September report marks two months of weak payroll gains, which “suggests that the mighty U.S. jobs machine may be losing some steam.”
“Potential culprits include weakness overseas (which is hurting manufacturing), volatility in the stock market (which is making companies more cautious) and weak productivity growth (forcing companies to boost productivity by shedding workers),” Behravesh added.