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Retailers Added 22,500 Jobs in March as Overall Employment Sees Biggest Gain Since Summer

The United States labor force added more jobs than anticipated last month as COVID-19 vaccinations and reopenings boosted front-line work, including in the retail sector.

As a whole, retail saw an increase of 22,500 jobs in March — led by clothing and accessories stores, which rose 16,300. Miscellaneous store retailers and non-store retailers also saw upticks of 5,600 and 1,400, respectively. These gains were partially offset by losses of 7,100 in general merchandise stores, as well as losses of 6,000 in sporting goods and hobby stores.

Still, employment in the retail trade is 381,000 below levels recorded in February 2020 — just before the pandemic whipped the U.S. economy. In subsequent weeks, hundreds of thousands of businesses were forced to temporarily shutter due to government-mandated restrictions on nonessential retailers.

In recent weeks, however, experts have issued upbeat predictions for an economic recovery in the U.S. as more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19. The White House’s campaign to make every adult in the country eligible for inoculation no later than May 1 has given Americans a figurative timeline to the end of the health crisis. While many stores continue to operate with reduced hours or capacity limits, many retail workers have returned to their posts, and the National Retail Federation recently predicted that the retail industry could even see record sales growth this year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total non-farm payrolls rose by 916,000 in March — well above economists’ forecasts of 675,000 jobs and the biggest hike since the 1.58 million added in August. Payrolls for both January and February were also revised higher: January’s was upwardly revised to 233,000 from the previously reported 166,000, while February’s totaled 468,000, compared with the 379,000 previously reported.

The unemployment rate edged down to 6% — still well above pre-coronavirus outbreak levels but a considerable decline from the high of 14.7% last year in April. (In February 2020, the rate was 3.5%.) Job growth, reported the agency, was widespread in the front-line industries of leisure and hospitality, which saw the largest jump of 280,000; constructions, whose employment grew by 110,000; as well as public and private education, with 101,000 roles.

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