Retail industry employment increased by 46,400 jobs in February over January, the National Retail Federation said on Friday. The number excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants. Overall, the economy added 313,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.
The February increase was more than four times the gain of 10,800 jobs seen in January over December. The three-month moving average in February showed an increase of 10,600 jobs.
General merchandise stores were up by 17,700 jobs, fueled mostly by gains at warehouse and supercenter stores, while clothing and accessories stores were up by 14,900 jobs and building materials stores were up by 10,300 jobs. There were declines totaling 5,400 jobs spread across health and personal care, sporting goods, and miscellaneous stores.
“This substantial gain in retail jobs is a significant positive sign regarding the health and viability of the industry,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at NRF. “It is stronger than expected and there were broad gains across most retail sectors. Beyond retail, labor markets continued to strengthen in all industries in February, and more jobs throughout the economy will mean more consumers shopping in retail stores. With tax reform in effect, consumer confidence increasing and strong underlying economic fundamentals, 2018 is off to a good start and we expect a prosperous year ahead.”
Kleinhenz noted that 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.
Economy-wide, average hourly earnings in February increased by 68 cents – 2.6 percent – year over year. The Labor Department said the unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, unchanged for the fifth straight month.