WASHINGTON — The textile and apparel industries remained in a prolonged slump in February despite a slight gain in employment on the apparel side and a slowdown in the pace of job losses.

Employment losses — a big election-year issue — have hit the textile industry the hardest, according to economists. Textile mills shed another 2,300 seasonally adjusted jobs in February to employ 236,400, and lost 40,200 jobs compared with February 2003, while textile mill products lost 1,200 to employ 175,700 and lost 12,100 against a year ago, according to the Labor Department’s employment report released Friday.

Apparel manufacturers added a seasonally adjusted 1,200 in February to employ 297,200 people, but lost 34,000 against a year ago. Combined employment in the industries stood at 709,300 in February.

“My expectation is the pace of job losses in the industries will accelerate as the year goes along and as new orders diminish in anticipation of Jan. 1, 2005,” said Charles McMillion, president of MBG Information Services.

Global quotas on apparel and textiles are to be eliminated at the start of 2005 by a World Trade Organization mandate, and McMillion predicted the domestic industry will lose more jobs as business shifts out of the U.S. to China and several other countries.

John Mothersole, senior economist at Global Insight, said: “For an old-line industry like textiles and apparel, the industry will continue to migrate overseas, whether it is to Central America or Asia. The future does not look bright. On Jan. 1, 2005, quotas will come off and there will be freer trade in textile and apparel production and that renews the competitive pressures on those firms that continue to produce here.”

Employment losses will be a factor in the presidential election, and many claim President Bush will have a difficult time in textile-producing states.

“The political consequences will be very interesting, particularly in the Carolinas where job losses have been concentrated,” McMillion said.

As the presidential election comes closer, the economy and jobs have come under a microscope and Democrats have attacked the Bush administration on its handling of the economy and the massive loss of manufacturing jobs since the President took office in January 2001.The Bush administration continues to point to positive economic signals and believes the tax cuts it wants to make permanent will stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said, “While we are creating jobs, today’s unemployment numbers underscore the urgent need for action on the President’s plan to lift the heavy domestic cost burdens that are holding back accelerated job creation. Factory activity is rising and manufacturing job losses are slowing, but President Bush won’t be satisfied until every American seeking work finds a job.”

U.S. companies added a mere 21,000 jobs in the overall economy in February, which fell far short of some economists’projections, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged in February at 5.6 percent, the Labor Department’s employment report revealed Friday.

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