WASHINGTON — U.S. textile and apparel producers cut a seasonally adjusted 3,300 jobs from their payrolls in February as the industry continued to face stiff foreign competition, despite new restrictions on Chinese imports.
“I suspect that they will continue to lose jobs unless there are some more, strong measures to protect their production from imports,” Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services, said of domestic manufacturers. “I suspect they’ll continue to lose jobs to net imports, as well as productivity gains.”
According to the Labor Department’s monthly reading on jobs, released Friday, textile mills eliminated 1,400 positions to employ 207,900 in February, while the workforce at textile product mills shrank by 1,000 to 174,100 and apparel producers cut 900 jobs to employ 251,700.
After years of job losses, domestic textile and apparel producers enjoyed some relative stability on the employment front in the fourth quarter. The sector also got some relief through a trade deal restricting 34 kinds of imports from China that went into effect at the beginning of this year, but goods covered under the pact represented only 13 percent of the country’s apparel and textile imports by volume in January.
Boosted by strong gains in the construction area, the overall U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate, however, rose to 4.8 percent from 4.7 percent the preceding month, as people who hadn’t been working and weren’t counted as unemployed began to look for work.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) said Friday he was “pleased” with the employment numbers.
“It’s not an accident that this happened,” Hastert said in a press call with other GOP leaders, who emphasized they would push to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent.
Hastert pointed to the creation of 5 million jobs since 2003 as a sign the economy is “very, very strong.”
Job growth has been less robust, however, if measured from the inception of Bush’s presidency in January 2001. From that point, the economy has added 2 million jobs, primarily in the government sector. The manufacturing sector has lost 2.8 million jobs in the five years since Bush took office, through January.
“Consumers should be pretty happy,” said Standard & Poor’s chief economist, David Wyss. “They have jobs, their pay went up pretty nicely — 0.3 percent in February, although that’s sort of the cost of filling up the gas tank — and with strong job growth, they ought to be pretty confident about keeping that job.”
The U.S. needs to add about 175,000 jobs each month to keep the unemployment rate stable, Wyss noted.
“We’re seeing the best employment numbers we’ve had since the recession,” he said, referring to the economic dip that lasted from March to November 2001.
Within the retail sector, apparel and accessory stores added 3,900 workers to employ 1.4 million, while department stores cut their workforce by 200 positions for a total of 1.6 million employees.