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March retail jobs down from February, up more than 30K from 2017

Staff Reports • Updated Apr 15, 2018 at 10:15 PM

Amid fluctuations in weather and spring holidays, retail industry employment fell by 6,400 jobs seasonally adjusted in March but showed an increase of 30,800 unadjusted year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation. 

The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants. Overall, the economy added 103,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.

“March was weaker than February but the trend is in the right direction,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “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.”

March’s numbers followed a monthly increase of 42,400 jobs in February compared to January. The three-month moving average in March showed an increase of 14,200 jobs. There were 711,000 job openings in the retail industry in January, the highest monthly figure ever.

Monthly gains were seen in non-store, which includes online, and was up by 4,300 jobs from February; miscellaneous stores, up 4,100; furniture, up 2,000; building and garden supplies, up 1,900; and electronics and health-personal care, which were each up 1,700. Declines were concentrated in three sectors that had shown significant gains in February – general merchandise stores, down 12,600; clothing and clothing accessory stores, down 7,300; and grocery stores, down 3,200.

Economy-wide, average hourly earnings in February increased by 8 cents – 2.7 percent – year-over-year. The Labor Department said the unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, unchanged for the sixth straight month.

Kleinhenz said 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.

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