April Jobs Report: Retail Wages Trended Up as Unemployment Dropped to 3.6%

The U.S. economy’s hot streak is still going strong.

Employers added 263,000 jobs in April, coming in well ahead of the 190,000 forecast by economists. The hiring bump also pushed unemployment down to 3.6%, a low last seen in 1969, according to the latest report from the Labor Department.

The upbeat news should quell some concerns about an impending slowdown, which in the past year have been stoked by the Trump administration’s ongoing trade disputes with China, the inversion of the U.S. Treasury’s yield curve in March (a historical sign of a coming recession) and economic uncertainty in China and the U.K.

Despite the tight labor market, wage growth has remained relatively subdued, however. In April, overall wages were up 3.2% last month from a year earlier, coming in slightly below the 3.3% estimate.

Retail pay has risen more dramatically: Average hourly earnings in the sector rose 4.7% year over year in April to $19.47. But while retailers have been forced to raise wages to compete for workers, bankruptcies and a shifting consumer landscape have reduced the number of employees in the sector overall. Retail slashed 12,000 jobs in April, bringing total job cuts for the year to 49,100.

On Thursday, Walmart announced a new initiative that will trim the number of midlevel managers working in its stores but raise pay and increase responsibility for those that remain in the role. The news comes after Amazon announced in October that it would raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour, ahead of Target’s plan to hit that number by the end of 2020. (As of last month, the chain’s starting wage was $13 per hour.)

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