The economy added a higher-than-expected 209,000 jobs in July, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bringing unemployment to 4.3%, tied with May 2017 for a 16-year low.
The retail industry, however, had little to celebrate, as the sector added only a thousand jobs in the month, further evidence that the industry is undergoing a secular upheaval that has more to do with changing consumer demands than with economic malaise.
Brick and mortar retailers are experiencing declining store foot traffic, the shift to online and off-price stores that employ fewer people than department and specialty stores, and store closures that are expected to put continued pressure on retail employment.
The biggest drop in employment occurred at apparel specialty stores, where a total of 10,000 jobs were shed. Department store employment increased by 2,000 jobs, while general merchandise stores increased their staffs by 5,000.
Several big-box and specialty retailers, including Macy’s, Sears Holdings, J.C. Penney Limited, Wet Seal, American Apparel, Foot Locker, Abercrombie & Fitch, Michael Kors, Ascena Retail Group, Gymboree, and others, have announced plans to close stores that will result in further employment erosion in the sector.