WASHINGTON — Retailers boosted payrolls in November as the overall economy posted a steady employment gain and the unemployment rate fell, the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly employment report showed Friday.
Clothing and accessories stores, which had shed jobs in the past three months, reversed the trend and added 2,000 seasonally adjusted jobs to employ 1.4 million in November. General merchandise stores, including discounters and department stores, added 13,800 jobs in November to employ 3.1 million, following a gain of 7,800 last month. Department stores increased employment by 4,300 to employ 1.5 million.
“This is the first gain in four months for apparel specialty stores, although it’s not much to speak of with 2,000 jobs,” said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics of Moody’s Analytics. “They’ve been struggling with three consecutive months of declines.”
On a year-over-year basis, apparel specialty store employment was down 27,300, Hoyt said, indicating some softness in employment growth in that sector.
Hoyt said the general merchandise and department store categories have “reversed” declines in employment they posted last year.
Employment at general merchandise stores was up 88,700 in November compared with November 2012, while department store employment was 24,000 above year-ago levels, Hoyt said.
“The trend has probably been one of modest improvement in the retail sector, which is certainly in line with overall employment gains,” Hoyt said. “But there is still a lot of uncertainty out there revolving around federal fiscal policy,” he warned, noting that businesses are keeping a close eye on whether Congress can reach a deal on the federal budget by mid-January to avert another government shutdown. An impasse in Congress over spending levels led to a 16-day government shutdown in October.
“Employment is steadily improving month-by-month showing that the economy is primed for growth,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “While we are far from fully-recovered, we are seeing a more consistent picture of the market, which should support further economic and employment growth in 2014. The positive jobs report may put additional pressure on the Federal Reserve as they decide the fate of the taper [which generally means reducing the size of its bond-buying program, a tool used to stimulate the economy].”
The overall economy added 203,000 jobs, beating economists’ expectations, as the unemployment rate fell to 7 percent in November from 7.3 percent in October.
“Payroll employment increased by 203,000 in November, continuing a four-month run of consistently good numbers,” said Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “Overall, employment grew by an average of 183,000 jobs during 2012, and 189,000 during the first eleven months of this year. Thus, the sustainability of employment growth is well established.”
Handler said the report is “noteworthy” because the employment growth was broad based.
“Retailers added 22,300 jobs, mostly in sporting goods and general merchandise stores – discretionary spending categories that confirm the general health of the consumer sector,” he said.
In addition the manufacturing sector added 27,000 new jobs overall — the largest gain since early 2012, he said. Health care added 28,400 jobs in November.
In the apparel and textile manufacturing sector, apparel employment fell 200 to employ 140,300 in November. Mills making apparel fabrics and yarns trimmed 100 jobs to employ 114,900, while mills making home furnishings products added 100 jobs to employ 113,900.
“Overall this report ratifies the argument that the economy is seeing very stable growth, and is poised for an acceleration in 2014 as some of the factors that hurt growth in 2013 dissipate,” Handler said. “With the prospective passage of a federal budget in Washington, the eventual realization that the Fed’s tapering won’t meaningfully hinder growth, and solid economic contributions from the consumer, housing and export sectors, real GDP growth in 2014 will be nearly a percentage point higher in 2014 than in 2013.”