WASHINGTON — Specialty chains, discounters and department stores all boosted payrolls in May, in line with robust employment growth in the overall economy, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly employment report.

Apparel and accessories stores added a seasonally adjusted 2,500 jobs to employ 1.4 million in May, while department stores added 300 positions to employ 1.3 million, and general merchandise stores, a category that includes discounters and department stores, added 5,300 jobs to employ 3.1 million last month.

“The economy is expanding and will see stronger growth for the balance of the year,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “The combination of April’s revision and May’s increase remains consistent with national gains and expectations for general growth the remainder of the year. Steady job growth in the private sector has worked to lift total nonfarm payrolls above prerecession levels.”


Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics, said apparel and accessories retailers have posted strong employment gains because they have been bolstered by healthy sales gains. Department stores, however, have had weak sales for several months, which has translated into a falloff in hiring, although the pace of job losses has slowed, Hoyt said.

“For department stores, the trend is toward modest employment declines,” he noted. “The second quarter for everybody is a big sigh of relief after the first quarter. Certainly weather was very difficult for a lot of industries, including retail, but it seems like we have had a rebound in sales since then and that I’m sure has been very comforting to retailers.”

While retailers picked up hiring in May, apparel and textile manufacturers cut back payrolls in the month.
Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns shed 600 jobs to employ 116,500, while mills making home-furnishings products also trimmed 600 jobs to employ 110,100. Apparel employment fell 2,300 to 132,000.

In the overall economy, employers added 217,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.3 percent in May.

“All in all it wasn’t too bad, but income growth is key [for the health of the economy],” said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University.

Wage growth has been “subdued,” which has impacted purchasing power, he added.

“This report is a rebound from all of the issues from weather in the first quarter,” Dhawan said. “But the underlying trend is not different than it was four months ago, and that is that things are humming along, but nobody wants to get outside of their comfort zone, which means corporations are not expanding as aggressively as they would like to.”

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