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Retail industry loses 91,300 jobs in November

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[December 06, 2008]  NEW YORK (AP) -- The U.S. retail industry slashed a startling 91,300 jobs in November, the biggest monthly loss in more than half a century, as it confronts a severe retrenchment in consumer spending and what could be a long and deep recession.

RestaurantThe worst job losses in the sector since April 1956 - an era that pre-dated Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer - offers dramatic evidence of the industry's woes as merchants close stores and slash sales help as it faces what may be the weakest holiday season in decades.

It also marked the 12th consecutive month of retail job reductions and was well above the industry's average monthly pace of 40,000.

"The recession is clearly deepening - on the employment front, the consumer front," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers. "Until we get the financial problems squared away, we are looking at a long and severe recession."

The dismal job news came a day after retailers - with Wal-Mart a notable exception - reported the weakest month in at least 39 years.

Overall, the nation's employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, pushing the unemployment rate to a 15-year high of 6.7 percent. The losses were much deeper than the 320,000 job cuts that economists were expecting. While the unemployment rate wasn't as high as the 6.8 percent estimated, the overall picture was still miserable.


Niemira noted that the retail job losses were the most recorded for any month since April 1956, when 99,000 jobs were eliminated. At that time, said retail consultant Walter Loeb, the industry was less than half its current size - so the reductions were even more dramatic. Back then, before Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was founded in 1962, stores like the now-defunct Montgomery Ward ruled.

Still, November's retail job reductions were jaw-dropping and well exceed the levels during recessions in 2001 and the early 1990s, Niemira says. In 2001, the industry's average monthly job decline was 24,000, while the 1990-1991 period saw an average monthly decline of 10,000 retail jobs. Niemira believes that the U.S. economy is only one-third of the way into the current recession and said consumer spending hasn't hit bottom yet, either.

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"There is a lot of hardship to come," he added.

Frank Badillo, senior economist at consulting group TNS Retail Forward, says that the sharp job cuts across the retail industry show that all sectors are feeling the pain. The November report showed that motor vehicle and parts dealers suffered the biggest losses, cutting 27,100 jobs. But clothing and accessories stores lost 17,600 jobs, while sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores shed 10,700 jobs. Furniture and home furnishings stores eliminated 9,800 jobs. Electronics and appliance stores lost 6,700 jobs.

Stores have dramatically scaled back their holiday hiring plans from a year ago, but the bigger job losses are coming from the rash of store closings and liquidations, from Mervyns LLC to Linens 'N Things, that have picked up in recent weeks.

Circuit City Stores Inc., the nation's second-largest consumer electronics chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month and is cutting thousands of workers but plans to keep operating with a reduced store base. Loeb and other analysts expect that many more stores will file Chapter 11 bankruptcy after the holiday shopping season.

"This is just the beginning," Loeb said.

[Associated Press; By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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