WASHINGTON — Apparel specialty stores dramatically increased payrolls in November, as retailers across the board added jobs, a Labor Department report showed Friday.

The Labor Department said Hurricane Sandy did not “substantively impact” employment in most sectors, although the construction sector lost 20,000 jobs in the month.

Apparel and accessories stores added 33,300 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis last month, to employ 1.45 million, while department stores added 1,900 jobs to employ 1.5 million. General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores, added 9,600 jobs in November to employ 3.1 million.

“With an atypically early Thanksgiving, there was more of a potential to move more seasonal hiring into the November survey period,” said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics, looking at the sharp increase in apparel-specialty-store employment. “Clearly, the trend in that [sector] is positive, which makes sense, because the sales gain has been healthy and running in the neighborhood of 5 percent year-over-year in the last several months. There is definitely a reason for there to be hiring in the apparel-specialty industry.”

However, there has been much weaker growth in general merchandise and department-store sales, he said.
“That is not conducive to stronger hiring,” he said. “In both of those segments, the job count was below where they were a year ago. So clearly there isn’t a motivation to hire.”

In the manufacturing sector, apparel employment fell by 200 to 146,400. Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns added 500 jobs to employ 118,700, while mills making home furnishings products trimmed 200 jobs to employ 113,400.

In the overall economy, employers added 146,000 jobs, beating economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in October.

“The November payroll survey was brighter than expected,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “The 146,000 increase in employment was roughly in line with the 151,000 average for the year so far.”

Gault said the unemployment rate dropped “for the wrong reasons,” noting that more people stopped looking for work, which drove down the unemployment rate. The rate is based on a household survey done by the government.

“Last month’s hope that a better labor market was drawing more people into searching for jobs has been dashed,” Gault said. “The good news is not that the labor market is improving rapidly — it isn’t — but that employment growth is holding up despite all the fears over the fiscal cliff.”

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