WASHINGTON — Even as the overall labor market strengthened, apparel and textile manufacturers shed another 3,600 seasonally adjusted jobs from their payrolls in October.

The pace of employment losses inboth industries slowed again in October against September but economists suggested long-term declines would continue in the twin sectors.

Combined employment in the industries now stands at 729,000, according to the Labor Department’s employment report released Friday.

The textile mill category lost 2,900 seasonally adjusted jobs last month against September to employ 254,800 people, while textile mill product employment — which refers to workers at mills making towels and other related products — remained unchanged at 179,600. Compared with October 2002, textile mills lost 32,700 jobs and textile mill product makers lost 15,800 jobs.

Apparel-manufacturing employment fell by 700 jobs in October against September on a seasonally adjusted basis to employ 294,600. Compared with October 2002, apparel employment was down by 52,100.

The economy and jobs are likely to be key campaign issues in next year’s presidential election, and the Bush administration has started to emphasize any positives in a slowly recovering economy.

Overall, U.S. employers added 126,000 new jobs to payrolls in October, primarily in retail, technical services and health care. The unemployment rate fell to 6 percent from 6.1 percent last month. Nearly 9 million people remain unemployed.

As a whole, the beleaguered manufacturing sector slashed another 24,000 jobs in October, marking the 37th consecutive month of declines.

A coalition of textile and fiber groups has turned up the pressure on the administration to impose safeguards on apparel and textile imports from China that it claims are decimating the industry.

A multiagency group is expected to issue a decision on Nov. 17 on three petitions filed by the coalition seeking to impose quotas on bras, knit fabric and dressing gowns and robes.

Economists said the news in the overall labor market is encouraging but remained concerned about the textile and apparel sectors.

“The industries are feeling real competitive pressure” from imports, said John Mothersole, an economist at Global Insight. “There we are simply looking at the loss of a domestic manufacturing base over the longer term.”Charles McMillion, president of MBG Information Services, said he also expects the job losses in the twin industries to continue.

“These are industries that are having strong productivity growth,” said McMillion. “When you have declining production and rising productivity the simple math is you will have job losses.”

Meanwhile, apparel and accessories stores added 5,100 jobs to payrolls in October against September to employ 1.3 million workers. Compared with October 2002, apparel and accessories store employment fell by 23,900.

General merchandise stores added 3,800 jobs to payrolls last month to employ 2.9 million workers while department stores added 700 jobs to employ 1.7 million workers. Compared with 2002, general merchandise stores added 58,500 jobs, while department stores added 9,700 jobs.

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