WASHINGTON — Retailers joined with the overall economy in adding jobs in April, offering evidence of an improved economic outlook.

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Specialty apparel retailers added 8,600 jobs last month compared with March to employ 1.39 million, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday, while department stores expanded payrolls by 300 jobs to employ 1.48 million.

“The gains in retailing employment are consistent with a recovery [in] spending at retail chains,” said John Lonski, chief economist for Moody’s Investor Services. “The improvement in private sector employment is consistent with a lasting upturn of consumer spending. Going forward, consumer spending should grow.”

Clothing stores helped spur an increase in retail industry employment of 12,400 jobs, said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. The employment figures came on the heels of mixed same-store sales reports from retailers on Thursday, she noted.

“Today’s jobs report is yet another reminder of the complex challenges the U.S. economy faces as it moves toward recovery,” Kennedy said.

Nationwide, employers added 290,000 jobs, the largest increase in four years and the fourth straight month of job gains. Yet the unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent in April from 9.7 percent the previous month.

President Obama called the jobs figures “encouraging,” pointing to the private sector’s employment expansion of 230,000 jobs.

“These numbers are particularly heartening when you consider where we were a year ago, with an economy in free fall,” Obama said. “At the height of the downturn, around the time that I took office, we were losing an average of 750,000 jobs per month.”

Further improving the outlook for jobs, payroll figures for February and March were revised upward a combined 121,000, noted Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.

“[Friday’s] employment report is a welcome tonic after [Thursday’s stock] market convulsions,” Gault said. “It shows the economy gaining momentum.”

However, he added, “the unemployment increase is a reminder that even with employment gaining strength, it will be a long slog to bring down the unemployment rate.”

In the manufacturing sector, apparel companies added 100 jobs to employ 165,700. Textile mills that make apparel fabric added 800 jobs to employ 123,800. Textile product mills, which make mostly home furnishing and industrial fabrics, expanded payrolls by 100 jobs to employ 121,800.

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