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Unemployment Rate Steady, Retail Hiring Inches Up in Quarter

The unemployment rate remained flat at 4.1% in March.

Retail employment only saw a slight fluctuation, losing 4,400 jobs in March for a total of $15.9 million. The losses follow a 59,000 job gain in January and February combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

General merchandise stores lost 12,600 jobs or 0.4%. Clothing and accessories stores in general were down 0.5% or 7,300 jobs in March.

For the first three months of 2018, retail employment was up 0.3%, or 54,800 jobs. Employment at clothing and accessories stores increased by 16,600 jobs or 1.2% during the first quarter.

Only the building materials and garden supply stores gained more with a 1.4% uptick or 18,400 jobs added. Non-retail stores, which are predominately e-commerce businesses, increased by 2.5% with 14,300 jobs.

Food and beverage, health and personal care, and sporting goods and hobby stores were the losers during the period.

Year on year, retail was up 0.4% with 56,500 positions added. Clothing and accessories stores, however, are down 1.8%, having lost 25,300. Non-store retail added 27,400 jobs, a 4.9% increase.

The National Retail Federation also released its employment numbers Friday.

Unlike the government’s report, the NRF calculations not only include store employees, it also tabulates those working in the store headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs.

According to its calculations, retail employment—excluding car dealers, gas stations and restaurants—fell by 6,400 in March compared to the previous month but a year-on-year increase of 30,800 employees.

“March was weaker than February but the trend is in the right direction,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “This time of year can be quirky given weather and the timing of Easter and Passover. We should be pleased with the broader picture because the economy is growing, creating substantial job gains at this time during the expansion. Even with this month’s dip, retail employment is still substantially higher than the beginning of the year and this time last year. Retail has not taken a step backward.”

Photo credit: Bureau of Labor Statistics