WASHINGTON — Employment across all apparel and textile sectors fell in May, as the nation’s overall unemployment rate hit a 9-year high of 6.1 percent.

Apparel employment, on the decline for three decades, fell by 2,700 in May, on a seasonally adjusted basis to 315,100, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s newly revised employment report released Friday. The Labor Department conducted a major overhaul of its monthly employment report, changing the way jobs are classified and updating seasonal adjustment calculations.

In many sectors, the revised employment numbers in a particular category, such as apparel manufacturing, are much lower than in past reports because a portion of the jobs were reclassified under different categories.

For example, 20.7 percent of the jobs under the old apparel manufacturing classification were shifted to the textile products category, while 5.4 percent of the jobs were shifted to transportation equipment and 4.9 percent of the jobs were shifted to the printing and related support activities classification, according to a Labor official who requested anonymity.

In April, the Labor report showed apparel employment at 495,000, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Since a portion of those jobs has been transferred to different categories, the total employment in the apparel manufacturing category is smaller.

However, the monthly and year-over-year apparel numbers also have declined due to layoffs, which Labor officials have revealed by revising all of the historical data based on the new classifications. Compared with May 2002, the apparel sector lost 46,100 jobs, according to the revised numbers.

In the textile sector, the Labor Department has created two categories: textile mills and textile mill products. The textile mill category lost 4,400 jobs in May to employ 273,100 workers, while the textile mill product sector lost 1,600 jobs in May to employ 189,000 jobs. The two combined employ 462,100 workers.

Compared with May 2002, textile mills lost 21,000 jobs, while textile mill products lost 8,000 jobs. About 15 percent of the textile jobs were reclassified as textile mill products in the new report and 12.8 percent of the textile jobs were shifted to apparel, according to the labor official.

“The decision was made five to six years ago to move to a different classification system for government data,” said John Mothersole, an economist with Global Insight. “The old system was viewed as dated in that it focused too heavily on the manufacturing sector and didn’t have as much detail in the service sector, especially in the newly emerging high tech industry.”In the aggregate sense, Mothersole said he doesn’t think the overhaul has changed the manufacturing picture. “I like to think the introduction doesn’t detract from the manufacturing picture, but rather enhances it,” he said.

However, due to the reclassifications, employment in the apparel and textile industries combined is much smaller than under the old reporting system. The total number of apparel and textile workers now stands at 777,200, which is 126,800 fewer workers than the old reporting system showed, according to Charles McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services.

Under the new system, the apparel and textile industries combined lost 8,700 jobs in May, he noted.

“This fits the pattern we’ve seen of acceleration now in job losses and the shutdown in capacity with demand weakening and increased price and volume pressure from imports,” McMillion said.

Meanwhile, department stores slashed 4,500 jobs from payrolls in May to employ 1.693 million workers. Compared with May 2002, department stores employed 20,600 fewer employees.

Apparel and accessories stores cut 2,900 from payrolls in May to employ 1.285 million workers and employed 23,300 fewer workers against a year ago. General merchandise stores cut 4,500 jobs from payrolls in May, but employment was up by 1,200 against May 2002.

The overall economy lost 17,000 jobs in May, as the unemployment rate rose from 6 percent in April to 6.1 percent last month and the number of unemployed people stood at 9 million.

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