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Retail Employment Slumps Most in Year as Stores Cut Back

Employment by retailers slumped the most in more than a year last month, hurting growth in the U.S. job market, as higher payroll taxes and concern fiscal policies will reduce consumer spending prompt companies to trim costs.

Retail employment declined by 24,000 in March, the most since February 2012, Labor Department data showed today in Washington . That included a drop of 15,000 in clothing and accessories stores and a decrease of 10,000 in building-material and garden suppliers, according to the report. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) , Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) and J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) have reduced their workforces to cut costs and keep prices low at the same time that they work to fend off competition from online merchants such as Amazon.com Inc. Retailers have been cautious about hiring because of political paralysis in Washington and concern the 2 percentage-point increase in payroll taxes will slow purchases, said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation. “Retailers are very concerned about getting the right mix of inventory and employees, and how to make that mix work,” Kleinhenz said in a telephone interview today. The NRF, a Washington-based trade group, forecasts U.S. retail sales will increase 3.4 percent this year, slower than the 4.2 percent gain in 2012. Overall, U.S. employers hired fewer workers than forecast in March and a slump in the size of the labor force pushed the jobless rate down to a four-year low. Payrolls grew by 88,000 workers, the smallest gain in nine months. The jobless rate fell to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent. Wal-Mart Complaints The decline in retail employment last month represents a pause in a pickup that began in July of last year. In the eight months that ended in February, retail employment increased by about 205,000. Wal-Mart, the world’s […]

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