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Retail jobs surge in California despite so-so sales

Retail jobs surge in California despite so-so sales
The California retail sector enjoyed healthy job growth in June, adding 7,900 positions. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Employers in California's retail trade industry seemed optimistic in June, adding 7,900 jobs despite lackluster sales throughout the first half of the year.

The category posted the largest month-to-month gain of the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which boosted its job count by 13,200 positions, according to a report Thursday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Overall, employers in the state added 30,200 jobs last month, according to the data, which was inadvertently released a day early. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.5% from 8.6% in May.

Payroll tax increases, sequestration concerns and general financial anxiety had kept shoppers cautious in early 2012.

A trio of privately produced reports last week, which focus on a small group of mostly mall-based retailers, showed sales finally getting a sizable lift in June. Warmer summer temperatures and seasonal discounts kicked in, improving shoppers’ spirits, according to analysts.

By one measure from Retail Metrics Inc., same-store sales at shops open at least a year swelled 4.1% last month from the same period a year earlier. The uptick is the largest since January.

But core retail sales, which strip out the effects of auto and gas purchases, suffered their first decline in a year last month. A more comprehensive Commerce Department report this week showed a 0.1% slide from May, as home improvement brands, restaurants and department stores took a hit.

Retailers hoping to lure early back-to-school shoppers and consumers on summer break have steadily upped their seasonal hiring efforts in the years since the recession.

Nationwide, there were 3.8 million job openings in May – a slight increase from April, according to the government Job Openings and Labor Turnover report. But the retail sector boosted its openings substantially, with 18% more than in April.

Nearly 3 in 10 American employers – including a third of retailers – planned to hire summer workers, according to a CareerBuilder forecast. More than half of companies taking on a higher headcount finished their hiring in May and June.

There's also an added, more long-lasting bonus, according to CareerBuilder North America President Brent Rasmussen.

"Seasonal work – whether in retail or engineering – is also a good entry point into the labor market for job seekers, as a vast majority of employers – 67% – will consider summer hires for permanent positions," he said.

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