First, employment in low-wage businesses such as retailing and restaurant work came back, helping restrain average paychecks and hurting retailers. By late last year, higher-paying jobs in professional services began to grow again.
Only in the most-recent reports are we seeing growth in the Holy Trinity of the middle class (to stretch the point slightly): government employment, construction and manufacturing. All of them are still way down from pre-recession levels.
Although manufacturing has some long-term issues that are going to keep employment from coming nearly all the way back, and Washington is still determined to contain spending and cut the federal deficit, all three sectors have resumed growth in recent months.
So though the data are nasty this month, it may not last. The job base that drives retail spending is improving steadily -- not just in the number of jobs, but also now in the type of jobs we're seeing. Economists at PNC Financial added Wednesday that falling gas prices are also going to help -- an argument TheStreet's Jim Cramer also made recently.
Even as it cut its forecast, Macy's said it saw signs of rising consumer confidence and maintained its profit forecasts. "There's a retail trade brewing here,'' Cramer said.
All of this isn't likely to help much when Walmart (WMT) and Nordstrom (JWN) report their quarterly results on Thursday. But it will help soon.
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