WASHINGTON — Job losses in domestic textile mills and apparel factories continued to be tempered last month, as companies got a piece of retailers’ back-to-school and restocking orders, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Textile mills in September employed a seasonally adjusted 2,000 fewer workers than August, as apparel factories trimmed payrolls by 8,000. Starting in May, the twin industries have enjoyed a respite from their long-term pattern of steeper job losses.

However, Charles McMillion, chief economist with MBG Info Services, expects job losses in the apparel and textile sectors to pick up through the end of the year.

"Consumer demand is weakening and there is significant overcapacity in textiles and apparel plants, and import competition continues to be severe," McMillion said.

Meanwhile, compared with September 2001, textile mills last month laid off 39,000 fewer workers to employ 425,000. Apparel factory jobs over the year fell by 36,000, leaving 515,000.

Department stores last month employed 2.5 million workers, 7,000 fewer than August. However, compared with a year ago, department store employment was down 61,000 workers.

General-merchandise stores, including mass retailers, had 3,000 fewer workers in September than August to employ 2.9 million, which is 54,000 fewer than a year ago.

In the overall economy, the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in September, down slightly from August’s 5.7 percent. Job losses centered on manufacturing and transportation, while the service sector showed the largest gains.

Andrew Hodge, senior vice president of the WEFA Group, said the economy remains in a "seesaw" pattern and is poised for another downturn into the fourth quarter after a fairly strong third quarter. He said consumers remain skittish about opening their wallets.

"We see a weaker recovery than average and we see a risk of increased joblessness as a further dampener," Hodge said.

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