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WASHINGTON – Retail industry employment decreased by 30,300 jobs in March from February, a substantially weaker-than-expected report due in part to weather patterns from mild temperatures to blizzards, the National Retail Federation said today. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants. The overall economy gained 98,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said.
“The focus should be on wages, which remained strong in March,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Wage growth translates into increased spending by consumers and benefits the economy overall. Nonetheless, some retail sectors have grown while others are continuing to adjust job deployment relative to changes in consumer behavior and buying patterns.”
“The rate of improvement in the labor market continues in a roller coaster pattern, but its pace is moving in the right direction and is probably consistent with an economy in its eighth year of expansion,” Kleinhenz said.
Average hourly earnings remained strong, coming in 2.7 percent higher than the same time a year ago compared with 2.8 percent in February. On a three-month moving average, retail employment shows a decline of 12,600 jobs.
The Labor Department said March unemployment fell to 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in February and the lowest since May 2007.
NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing 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.