WASHINGTON — U.S. apparel and textile manufacturers shed another 3,700 jobs last month, as imports again took their toll, but the overall employment picture brightened.

Retailers helped boost the nation’s employment in April, as a total of 274,000 jobs were added — higher than previous estimates, according to the Labor Department’s monthly report on employment released Friday. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.2 percent.

Apparel and accessories stores added 2,600 jobs in April, employing 1.4 million, which represented a gain of 32,300 compared with a year ago. Department stores hired 2,100 workers in the month for a total of 1.6 million, or 12,300 more than a year ago.

The larger general merchandise store category, which includes department stores, increased its workforce by 4,700 for a total of 2.9 million workers, or 19,500 more than a year ago. Figures were adjusted by the government to compensate for seasonal differences.

Standard & Poor’s chief economist, David Wyss, characterized the report as “extremely strong.” The unemployment rate combined with increases in hours worked and earnings were positive signs for consumer spending, he said.

“Manufacturing was still down, however,” Wyss said. “One of the things that has to worry you with manufacturing is the combination of that with the huge deficit.”

The overall U.S. trade deficit hit a record $617 billion last year.

Apparel vendors cut 1,800 jobs last month, for a total workforce of 261,600, or 30,200 fewer than a year ago. Textile mills reduced their base by 1,700 jobs to 227,000, or 12,700 fewer than April 2004.

Bucking the trend, textile product mills added 200 positions for a total of 177,900. Still, that represents a loss of 1,200 from a year ago.

“Even though employment in the textile industry is still falling, even here the silver lining is that the pace of decline appears to be slowing down,” said Ken Goldstein, an economist at The Conference Board. “At least the hemorrhaging or the rate of hemorrhage is starting to slow.”

The improving employment situation factored into the stronger-than-expected same-store sales from retailers on Thursday, said S&P’s Wyss. Same-store sales rose 2.2 percent in April, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers report, which tracked 70 stores.

This story first appeared in the May 9, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The economy’s looking like it’s in pretty good shape,” he said, adding that upward revisions in March and February employment figures made for three “pretty decent months.”

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