WASHINGTON — Specialty stores, discounters and department stores all boosted payrolls in March, the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly employment report revealed Friday.
Apparel and accessories stores added 1,500 seasonally adjusted jobs to employ 1.38 million in March, while department stores added 1,600 jobs to employ 1.34 million. General merchandise stores, a category that includes discounters and department stores, added 10,900 jobs to employ 3.1 million.
“We do seem to be seeing improvement in apparel and accessories store employment, which are up on a year-over-year basis (by 5,100) for the first time since last May,” Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics, said. “General merchandise stores also looked good from that perspective. The year-over year increase of 67,700 was the biggest increase since January 2014.”
Hoyt noted sales growth in both segments has translated into more hiring.
Department store employment, however, has been volatile. Despite the uptick in March, employment was down for the fifth straight month on a year-over-year basis, he said.
The overall outlook for retailers is “pretty bright,” according to Hoyt.
“Consumers have been saving a lot of money at gas pumps,” he said. “So far they haven’t been spending a lot of it but chances are as the weather improves…they are going to go out and spend it. That outlook for retail spending is pretty strong and job growth should follow.”
“While the weak March jobs report is discouraging overall, payrolls showed steady improvement, increasing at a solid pace,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “As the year progresses I do expect the job market to continue to strengthen. The recent healthy job growth, better household balance sheets and elevated confidence should be just the formula consumers need to continue to spend and help propel economic growth even further.”
“With the arrival of spring and busy months ahead, there’s a good chance retailers will continue to help pave the way for improvements in economic activity,” he said.
In the overall economy, employers added 126,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5 percent.
“This was a disappointing report but the outlook is generally good,” Hoyt said. “We have isolated pockets of weakness in employment — anything related to the energy industry is obviously at risk and anything that is export dependent is also at risk because of the strengthening dollar. That accounts for why we saw a lot of weakness in mining and manufacturing employment.”
In manufacturing, textile mills making apparel fabrics and yarns cut 400 jobs to employ 118,500, while employment at mills making home-furnishing products fell 500 to 113,900. Apparel manufacturing employment fell 200 to 137,600 last month.
“At first glance, it looks like this report could be another weather-effected release because of the weakness in the leisure and hospitality and construction sectors,” said Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.
Handler said a weather-related impact on employment in March makes the weak job growth more of an “aberration” than a trend.
“IHS believes that the April report will be more in line with stronger reports issued earlier in the year, allowing the March data to be discounted,” Handler said. “Therefore, we continue to see September as the month in which the first actions to raise interest rates [by the Federal Reserve] will occur.”