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Retail Employment Dropped in March, but Overall Job Gains Point to Economic Growth

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Retail industry employment in March was down by 11,700 jobs seasonally adjusted from February, and down 47,400 jobs unadjusted year-over-year, the Labor Department said today. The retail numbers, which exclude restaurants, came as the nation saw a monthly gain of 196,000 jobs overall.

“March’s strong rebound in overall hiring throughout the economy is good news after the seesaw employment growth in the past few months,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “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.

“Consumer confidence and consumer spending were down earlier in the year, so the retail numbers likely reflect merchants’ hesitancy to add to payrolls under those conditions,” 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% 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.

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 while excluding retail workers in other parts of the business such as corporate headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs.

About NRF

The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. Based in Washington, D.C., NRF represents discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy.

www.nrf.com

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