WASHINGTON — Even as the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. economy inched up last month, retailers boosted jobs across the board.
The unemployment rate rose to 5 percent in September from 4.9 percent in August.
Employment rose in September in specialty and department stores and general merchandisers, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday.
Apparel and accessories stores boosted payrolls 14,300 to employ 1.3 million on a seasonally adjusted basis in September, while department stores added 2,800 jobs to employ 1.3 million. General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, added 4,100 jobs to payrolls to employ 3.2 million last month.
In the overall economy, employers added 156,000 jobs, but the overall unemployment rate rose slightly to 5 percent from 4.9 percent in August.
Textile product mills posted the largest increase in jobs in industry manufacturing, adding 1,200 to employ 116,600. Apparel employers cut 300 jobs to employ 131,000, while textile mills making apparel fabric and yarn trimmed 300 jobs to employ 112,200.
The state of the U.S. economy is likely to be one of the key topics covered in the second presidential debate between candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which takes place Sunday. Trump has consistently criticized the Obama administration over its trade and economic policies, claiming they have cost the nation millions of jobs. Clinton, meanwhile, has praised Obama for his stewardship of the economy even as she, too, has spoken out against trade agreements such as the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“What we saw in September were very decent gains that reflect the general conditions of the economy and our expectations of a strong second half of 2016,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “With modest gains spread across key business categories including, clothing, electronics and furniture, what we’re seeing is reasonable when taking into consideration the economy is in the range of full employment.”
The NRF said the retail industry, excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, posted an increase of 10,000 jobs in September.
“On a three-month-average, retail jobs as calculated by NRF have increased by 11,000 positions over last year,” the association said.
But the results have been uneven, the NRF pointed out. For example, an increase of 14,300 jobs in apparel and accessories stores in September, came on the heels of a decline of 1,800 jobs in August. Conversely, building materials had a gain of 7,600 jobs in August, but lost 4,600 jobs in September.
Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “Job growth is slowing. Get used to it.”
He said an average of 178,000 jobs were added on a monthly basis in the first three quarters of the year, down from 211,000 a month in the first nine months of 2015.
“Over the next 12 months, the average is expected to fall below 150,000,” Newport said.
But the unemployment rate, job participation rate and employment rate have all improved slightly in the past year, he noted.
“That suggests that the labor market is balancing. Slack exists, but not much, and certainly hardly any that monetary policy could squeeze out,” Newport said.
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