WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy added 196,000 jobs in March, but retail industry employment for the month fell by 11,700 jobs seasonally adjusted from February, according to the Labor Department. Retail jobs were also down 47,400 jobs unadjusted year-over-year.
“March’s strong rebound in overall hiring throughout the economy is good news after the seesaw employment growth in the past few months,” National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “It paints a picture of resiliency of the U.S. economy. And all eyes should focus on the wage growth we’ve been seeing, since higher wages translate into increased spending. Retail jobs reflect the pulse of the economy, and as the economy picks up retail hiring is likely to do the same.”
Kleinhenz added that the retail numbers likely reflect merchants’ hesitancy to add to their payrolls given that consumer confidence and consumer spending were both down earlier in the year. Kleinhenz said. “But it’s important to remember that the economy historically slows down in the first quarter. And there have been record numbers of retail job openings – more openings than retailers can fill – so the tough hiring market is also a factor.”
March’s retail job numbers followed a revised loss of 18,500 jobs in February from January. Retail’s three-month moving average as of March showed a decline of 4,400 jobs.
March saw month-over-month gains of 2,700 jobs at sporting goods stores, 2,500 at furniture and home furnishing stores and 2,200 at auto parts stores. But those were offset by losses of 7,700 at health and personal care stores, 7,200 at general merchandise stores and 3,000 at clothing and clothing accessory stores.
Economy-wide, average hourly earnings in March were up 4 cents over February to $27.70, a year-over-year increase of 3.2 percent that builds on a 10-cent gain seen in February. The Labor Department said unemployment remained at 3.8%, unchanged from February. The 196,000-job overall gain in March was nearly 10 times the 20,000-job gain originally reported for February, which was revised today to 33,000.
The NRF argues that the retail job numbers reported by the Labor Department do not provide an accurate picture of the industry because they count only employees who work in stores, excluding people who work in other parts of the retail business, including at corporate headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs.