WASHINGTON — The textile and apparel industries continued to shave jobs from their payrolls in March as low-priced imports, unused capacity and falling prices chipped away at employment, according to economists studying the Labor Department’s monthly employment report released Friday.

Department stores also shed jobs last month while apparel and accessories stores added positions to their payrolls.

The textile sector lost 4,000 jobs last month to employ 415,000 workers, while the apparel industry cut 2,000 jobs to employ 502,000 workers. Both figures are 25,000 less than those of March 2002.

"This is the acceleration in the job losses I’ve been expecting because of weakening demand, the glut of very low-priced imports and the overhang of unused capacity," said Charles McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services.

John Mothersole, senior economist with Global Insight, noted manufacturing employment overall has declined for the past 30 months.

"For the apparel and textile industry the problem is more acute," said Mothersole. "Underdeveloped countries have a real comparative advantage over the domestic industry, which has been facing a relatively weak market."

Meanwhile, department stores shed 13,000 from payrolls last month to employ 2.51 billion workers while apparel and accessories stores added 2,000 jobs to employ 1.16 billion workers.

Department stores employed 48,000 less people than in March 2002. Apparel and accessories stores had 17,000 fewer jobs. General merchandise stores, including department stores and discounters, lost 2,000 jobs last month to employ 2.86 billion.

In the overall economy, U.S. companies slashed 108,000 jobs from their payrolls in March although the overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.8 percent.

Unemployed workers who are not actively seeking work are not calculated in the unemployment rate. Although companies posted a net job loss in March, the number of people actively seeking employment dropped, which is why the unemployment rate did not rise.

"In a period of weak job growth, the number of discouraged workers increases and is undercounted, which dampens the rise in the unemployment rate," Mothersole said.

A bright spot is that consumer confidence hasn’t fallen to the levels it did during the first Gulf War in 1991, according to Mothersole, although that could change if the war is a prolonged one.

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