Retail’s February Job Numbers Were Impacted by This Now-Bankrupt Chain

It was the shortest month of the year — and the weakest for job growth in 17 months, with American businesses filling only 20,000 new positions in February.

That figure, released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was well below economists’ forecasts of about 180,000 jobs, even as the unemployment rate declined to 3.8 percent. (The projection was at 3.9 percent, down from January’s 4 percent.)

It marks the fewest gains since September 2017, when two devastating hurricanes swept through the United States to curtail employment. February also saw a period of harsh winter weather, further crippled by a volatile stock market, political uncertainty and a slowdown in both the U.S. and global economies.

The retail sector recorded a loss of 6,100 jobs — with a 6,000 gain in general merchandise stores, including warehouse clubs and supercenters, offset by a notable drop of 9,000 in department stores.

Last month, discount footwear chain Payless ShoeSource announced that it was liquidating its nearly 2,500 North American stores, forcing 16,000 associates out of their roles. It became the latest retailer to affect job numbers in an industry that is known to be one of the largest private-sector employers in the country.

According to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, retail leads all sectors in job cut announcements, logging 41,201 losses this year — 92 percent higher than the 21,484 listed through February 2018 and the highest total for the first two months of the year since 2009.

Despite a bleak outlook for February, there was a bright side: Average hourly earnings rose by 11 cents to $27.66, posting the best year-over-year increase in nearly a decade at 3.4 percent. (Economists had predicted an increase of 3.2 percent.)

The past couple months’ jobs numbers were also revised slightly up, with December improving from 222,000 to 227,000 and January corrected from 304,000 to 311,000.

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