By  on January 10, 2005

WASHINGTON — Employment in the domestic apparel and textile industries suffered big losses last year as imports again took their toll, and retailing jobs also declined, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Manufacturers in the twin industries cut a combined 29,900 jobs from payrolls in 2004 — the bulk in apparel production — dropping employment to 683,100 from 713,000 in December 2003.

Apparel factories cut 800 jobs in December and employment stood at 272,500, a decline of 25,200 compared with a year ago. Textile mill employment decreased by 800 last month to 230,400, a drop of 10,600, while textile mill product employment increased by 200 in December to 180,200, a boost of 5,900 in the 12-month period.

In the overall U.S. economy, 157,000 jobs were added in December, which was slightly less than economists expected. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.4 percent. An estimated 2.2 million jobs were added last year — the biggest gain since 1999 and the first growth since 2000. They replaced the jobs lost earlier in President Bush’s first term.

The latest jobs figures came as China safeguard petitions seeking to limit imports and save U.S. jobs are the subject of a federal lawsuit and a debate over China’s potential to dominate global apparel and textile production.

Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services, said the pace of the losses slowed significantly in 2004. The combined loss in 2003 was 98,400 and the biggest one-year loss — 169,000 jobs — occurred in 2001.

“I expect this relative stability of industry employment will not continue in 2005, as imports increase, customer demand growth weakens and capacity utilization rates deteriorate further,” McMillion said.

Over the past 10 years, the twin industries have lost 873,400 jobs, or 56.1 percent of their workforce.

“I think they are running out of jobs to lose,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research. “We are running out of plants that are directly affected by imports.”

McMillion said the job gain in the overall economy was primarily in sectors that do not face import competition.

“While 2.2 million jobs were created in 2004, 2.1 million of these were created in services and construction, only 76,000 jobs were created during 2004 in manufacturing,” he said.A spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, one of the groups filing the safeguard petitions, said the delay in the review process will hurt the U.S. industries.

In the retail sector, apparel and accessories stores shed 52,800 jobs in 2004, including a payroll cut of 1,000 in December, to employ 1.4 million. The number of jobs at general merchandise stores declined by 5,300 in the month and 29,500 for the year to employ 2.8 million. Department stores employed 13,200 fewer people year-over-year — 800 less in December — to employ 1.6 million workers.

“There is an increased focus on technology and supply-chain efficiencies, which results in operating business with leaner inventories and fewer people,” Steidtmann said.

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