WASHINGTON — Retailers posted strong payroll gains in April for the second consecutive month, as the overall unemployment rate edged up slightly, the Labor Department reported Friday. Clothing and accessories stores added 6,100 jobs to employ 1.42 million last month, while department stores boosted payrolls by 9,400 to 1.49 million in April. General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, added 27,400 jobs to employ 2.98 million.
“Retailers are responding to consumer demand,” said Jack Kleinhenz chief economist for the National Retail Federation. “They are adding jobs as they have seen demand for their products and services increasing.”
The overall employment rate moved up to 9 percent in April from 8.8 percent in March. But businesses collectively added 244,000 jobs, marking three straight months of solid job growth and signaling confidence in the economy.
“The employment figures point to an underlying acceleration in job creation, helping the economy withstand the twin shocks from the Middle East and Japan,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.
Gault said the discrepancy between total jobs added to the economy and a bump in the unemployment rate was due to a “conflicting signal” sent by the household survey, which showed a decline in employment of 190,000. The Labor Department relies on two separate surveys for its employment report. The number of jobs added or subtracted is based on a survey of businesses, while the unemployment rate is calculated based on the household survey, which showed that more people were looking for work or had lost their jobs.
Further down the supply chain, mills making apparel fabric added 600 jobs to employ 121,300 in April. Payrolls at textile product mills, which make mostly home furnishings and industrial fabrics, fell 300 to 116,200. Apparel employment fell 100 last month to 155,800.