Eating and shopping lead job rebound

Steve Hargreaves

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — What could be more American than shopping and eating our way to an economic recovery?

Retail and food services experienced some of the strongest job growth in this month’s jobs report, adding 29,000 and 38,000 positions respectively.

Economists say these sectors are growing because people feel better about the economy.

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Housing prices and stock prices have been rising for the past several months, which has boosted consumer confidence. Gas prices have also been falling, putting more money in people’s pockets.

“We’re seeing more confidence and households are more able to go out and spend and drive job growth,” said James Marple, a senior economist at TD Bank.

Marple warned not too read to much into one month’s data. Retail jobs in particular have generally lagged overall job growth over the last year, though some of that is due to fewer workers needed in stores as more retail sales shift online.

But hiring at food service and drinking establishments has been brisk over the past 12 months — rising at a 3% rate verses 1.9% for the overall job market.

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“That’s usually one of the best barometers of the pulse of the consumer,” said Anthony Chan, chief economist for Chase Private Client, a wealth management division of JPMorgan Chase. “They don’t need a calculator to figure out things are getting better.”

There’s some concern that retail and restaurant jobs tend to be part time or low wage positions. Indeed, the number of Americans saying they worked part time when they really wanted full time jobs rose by 278,000 in April. But economists said that, on balance, it’s still positive news.

Chan said that part time employment is often a stepping stone to a full time position, and that people may be also taking part time jobs to improve their chances of getting hired elsewhere. It’s one thing to be unemployed when the job market’s lousy, he said, but it’s another to have to explain in an interview why you still don’t have work when the economy is on the upswing.

Marple also wasn’t too concerned that these might be part time or low wage positions.

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“A job’s a job. I wouldn’t consider it a negative,” he said.