WASHINGTON — Department stores and discounters boosted payrolls in April, as job growth in the overall economy slowed, the Labor Department said Friday.

Department stores added 6,400 seasonally adjusted jobs in April to employ 1.55 million, while general merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, added 21,400 last month to employ 3 million. Apparel and accessories stores cut 1,300 jobs to employ 1.36 million.

“Basically, these were disappointing numbers for apparel retailers, which have had declines in three of the last four months of this year,” said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics. “Year-over-year [a gain of 13,900], the numbers are looking like modest growth.”

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Hoyt said department stores and discounters have had weak employment growth on a year-over-year basis, despite the positive one-month gain in April.

“Early last year, we were seeing year-over-year job growth for general merchandise stores and department stores in the 50,000-to-60,000 job range,’ Hoyt said. “It appears that growth that we were seeing a year ago is petering out. It’s possibly seasonal and weather related.”

The overall economy posted a gain of 115,000 in April, failing to meet economists’ expectations, and coming in below an upwardly revised employment gain of 154,000 in March. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in April from 8.2 percent in March.

“Clearly, employers are not looking to aggressively hire and expand,” Hoyt said. “Fortunately, they are still hiring. We are not where we were a few years ago, when we were losing jobs. At present, it is a modest recovery.”

Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “Some of the sting of the weak 115,000 increase in jobs in April was taken away by the revision that took March up to 154,000 from 120,000. But the two-month slowdown is still very clear. Job growth in March and April averaged 135,000, down from an average 252,000 per month in the three months to February.”

Gault said the declines in the unemployment rate in March and April were more of a reflection of fewer people looking for work than an increase in employment.

“The employment deceleration in part results from warm winter weather that pulled some hiring forward, producing a payback now,” Gault said. “For that reason, we think that the March and April payroll figures understate the pace of recovery, and we look for a better but still subdued pace of job creation in the 150,000-to-200,000 region over the rest of the year.”

In the manufacturing sector, apparel manufacturers added 700 jobs to employ 151,300 last month, while mills making apparel fabric and yarns cut 300 jobs to employ 119,900. Employment at mills making home-furnishings products remained flat at 113,700.

 

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