By  on January 7, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Job losses continued to slam all segments of the retail, apparel and textile sectors in December, as the year ended in a recession and the overall unemployment rate reached its highest point in more than six years.

The one bright spot was an increase in hourly earnings and the average workweek.

Department store employment, which has been particularly impacted in the last quarter of the year, lost another 8,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in December, despite the normally job-hiring holiday season. Combined with the Labor Department's revised numbers from October and November, department stores lost a total of 53,000 jobs in the fourth quarter and employment ended the year at 2.397 million.

Employment at apparel and accessories stores, which declined by 10,000 jobs in November, dropped by 5,000 in December to 1.194 million. General merchandise stores lost 28,000 jobs in December and ended the year at 2.736 million.

"A lot of the decline was in retail," said Carl Steidtman, chief economist at Deloitte Research. "A lot of retailers during the holiday season didn't hire extra staff, which is traditional, and that shows up as a sizable decline in employment."

In the overall economy, the unemployment rate crept up 0.2 percent in December to 5.8 percent from a revised 5.6 percent in November, Labor reported. Businesses cut 124,000 jobs in December, following losses that averaged 400,000 a month in October and November.

Steidtman noted that the losses have not "bottomed out." He said: "There is still a fair amount of pent-up layoffs that could occur in the first quarter next year."

A silver lining in the report was an increase in hourly earnings and the average workweek, Steidtman said.

"You are seeing a stabilization in the number of hours worked in the economy as a whole," he said. "To me, that's a sign the business cycle is coming close to the bottom."

Meanwhile, textile and apparel manufacturing lost a combined 10,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in December.

Apparel manufacturing jobs plunged by 7,000 in December to 525,000 and dropped even further -- by 79,000 -- from December 2000. If trends continue, New York City's jobs losses were most severe. Compared with November 2000, the latest figures available, New York apparel manufacturing employment fell by 13,100, from 72,400 to 59,300 for the year-to-date in November. California lost 5,500 apparel manufacturing jobs and employment stood at 138,500 in November 2001.The textile industry, which saw its losses slow somewhat in the quarter, lost 3,000 jobs in December and ended the year with a total of 443,000. Compared with December 2000, the industry lost 67,000.

"Employment is down. That is the bad news," said Dave Link, chief economist at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. "That is an ongoing effect of the textile crisis we've had and the one we are in the middle of now due to the import situation from the Far East, which is still plaguing us."

On the positive side, Link pointed out that the average workweek for the textile industry reached 40 hours in December after falling below that mark for five consecutive months.

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