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Retail adds to March jobs but industry still below pre-pandemic level

Job growth surged in March with one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic showing the largest increase. 

Employers added 916,000 jobs in March, up from 416,000 in March 2020, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The March increase was the biggest since August. 

The leisure and hospitality sector led the way with the biggest increase, adding 280,000 jobs as pandemic-related-restrictions eased in many parts of the country. Nearly two-thirds of the increase was in food services and bars, with 176,000 new hires. But even with the gains, the sector is 3.1 million below its pre-pandemic total in February 2020.

Retail added 23,000 jobs in March, with the biggest increase in clothing and clothing accessories stores, which added 16,000 hires, and motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 13,000). Home furnishings stores added 6,000 jobs. 

The growth in retail was partially offset, however, by losses in building material and garden supply stores (down 9,000) and general merchandise stores (down 7,000). The DOL noted that employment in retail trade is 381,000 jobs below its February 2020 level.

In a statement with the report, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh noted that while the recovery is building momentum, over 8 million jobs that existed a year ago have yet to return.

“Disparities within the workforce continue to be a major concern,” he said. “The African-American unemployment rate in March was 9.6 percent, and the Hispanic rate was 7.9%, compared to 5.4% for whites. In addition, barriers to labor force participation for women continue to be a primary feature of the economy that has been exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic’s impact.”

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