Latest Jobs Report Sheds Light on How Bad Things Have Gotten for Retail

store closing liquidation bankrupt
A familiar sight.
REX Features.

If the slew of retail bankruptcies, store closures and diminishing bottom lines haven’t provided enough evidence of retail’s hardships, the latest jobs report surely does.

The retail industry lost 29,700 jobs in the month of March, on top of the 30,900 jobs it lost in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While footwear is not singled out in the labor bureau’s report, clothing and clothing-accessories stores — which include shoe sellers — got rid of 5,800 jobs in March, leaving 1.35 million jobs remaining in the category. Meanwhile, the sporting-goods and hobbies category — which lost The Sports Authority, Sport Chalet and City Sports over the last few months — ditched 1,900 gigs, leaving 600,800 jobs remaining.

Overall, the largest decline in the retail industry came from general-merchandise stores, which shed 34,700 jobs in March, including 12,600 positions at department stores. (Gains in furniture, food and beverage, home and garden and other retail categories were offset by declines in department stores, apparel and other categories.)

With Payless ShoeSource — the largest family footwear retailer in the U.S. — filing for bankruptcy this week and announcing 400 immediate store closures, the number of job losses in the industry is likely to rise. Amid speculation that specialty women’s apparel chain Bebe Stores would shutter all of its doors was confirmed this week: It plans to close 21 locations, which will also add to retail layoffs. And teen mall staple Rue 21 is also reportedly mulling bankruptcy and subsequent store closures.

At the same time, Nordstrom Inc., Macy’s Inc., Sears Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. are among the department stores that have been cutting costs via layoffs in recent months as retailers grapple with digital competition, high brick-and-mortar costs and consumer shifts toward experiential spending.

The dismal reads for retail come at a time when other industries and segments are thriving.

The March jobs report showed the total unemployment rate at 4.5 percent, its lowest in nearly a decade.

Still, employers added just 98,000 new jobs, significantly short of the 180,000 expected by economists.