By Kristi Ellis
with contributions from Arthur Friedman
 on March 4, 2016

WASHINGTON — Specialty stores and general merchandisers boosted payrolls in February, as job growth in the broader economy was strong and the unemployment rate remained unchanged, the monthly U.S. Labor Department report revealed Friday.

Apparel and accessories stores added a seasonally adjusted 11,100 jobs to employ 1.39 million last month. General merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores, added 8,300 jobs to employ 3.18 million, while department stores shed 4,100 jobs to employ 1.3 million.

“Weather has a serious impact on the retail industry, and when cold winter weather finally made its appearance shoppers headed to stores and brought shopping patterns to a good level,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, linking retail sales gains in some segments with an uptick in hiring. “This solid [jobs] report shows that the consumer is confident and continuing to shop.”

In manufacturing, employment in textile mills making apparel fabrics and yarns fell 1,200 to 115,100, while employment at mills making home furnishings products increased 200 to 118,200. Apparel manufacturers added 500 jobs to employ 134,900.

In the overall economy, employers added 242,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9 percent.

Nariman Behravesh, chief economis at HIS Global Insight, said, “Payroll employment growth returned to its 200,000 to 250,000 range of the past two years. Labor force growth was especially strong, – there have been solid gains for the past 5 months – and the labor force participation rate rose to its highest level since January 2015.”

IHS expects payroll employment gains to remain solid in the coming months—over 200,000 each month, and for the unemployment rate to edge down to 4.6 percent by the end of the year.

“If the Fed was looking for a clear signal from the labor market, it did not get one from the February data,” Behravesh added. “Jobs growth is strong, but there is still no wage inflation to speak of. This means that the chances of a March rate hike are low, but that the stage is set for an increase in June.”