Store closures are taking a bite out of retail payrolls.
Apparel and accessories specialty stores cut a seasonally 5,300 workers last month, compared with March, to employee 1.3 million, according the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report. And department stores shed 1,000 positions employee 1.1 million.
So far this year, retailers have said they were going to close at least 2,959 stores after announcing nearly 7,000 closures last year.
Among the doors set to go dark are 250 stores operated by the now-liquidating The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., 92 from the bankrupt Claire’s accessories chain and 730 from the disappearing Toys ‘R’ Us.
Other sectors added while apparel contracted. General merchandise stores, a category that includes wholesale clubs and supercenters, added 8,900 workers to employ 2 million. Nonstore retailers, including e-commerce companies, boosted their workforce by 1,800, to 596,000.
While the absolute job gains from the e-commerce set have been relatively small, the sector has an outsized impact on retail with Amazon in particular setting the bar on consumer expectations.
But the National Retail Federation trade group pointed out that, excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, the retail sector gained 3,700 jobs while the total economy added 164,000 positions.
“The jobs gains are looking very good and are in line with the continuing growth of the economy,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist. “Irregular weather patterns have put some noise into the data this year in terms of fluctuating monthly numbers, but the overall trends show the underlying strength of the economy. Tax reform and regulatory reform seen over the past few months are expected to continue to provide traction for the economy and further job growth.”
(The NRF also reiterated its contention that the official figures do not provide an accurate portrait of retail since “they count only employees who work in stores while excluding retail workers in other parts of the business such as corporate headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs).
Average hourly wages increased by 4 cents to $26.84 while unemployment dropped to 3.9 percent from 4.1 percent, its lowest level since December 2000.