By  on February 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - The textile and apparel manufacturing sector showed some stability last month and increased payrolls by 2,900 jobs, according to the Labor Department's employment report released Friday.

Textile product mills added the most seasonally adjusted jobs to payrolls last month, increasing employment by 2,600, while textile mills added 500 jobs, which offset a loss of 200 jobs in apparel manufacturing. Total employment in the apparel and textile sector stands at 639,000, which is still well below January 2005 levels, when employment was a combined 671,800.

It was the fifth monthly increase in industry jobs since 1994 and it was the biggest one-month industry gain since February 1996, according to Charles McMillion, president and chief executive officer at MBG Information Services.

The industry combined has lost a total of 408,300 jobs, or 39 percent of its workforce, since President Bush took office in January 2001, McMillion noted.

However, in pointing to the recent stabilization, McMillion said the industry gained 200 jobs in the last three months, compared with the same three-month period a year ago, when it lost 12,700 jobs.

"The report of the best industry job gains in over 11 years is more evidence that strong actions taken by the administration last year to slow the flood of predatory-priced imports from China are having positive effects on domestic producers," said McMillion, referring to the import restraint deal reached with China in November.

Nate Herman, international trade specialist and economist at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, argued that industry employment has seen a boost, primarily in the textile product mills category, due to an increase in defense procurement for items such as uniforms and tents associated with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an increase in demand for home furnishings products.

The overall economy added 193,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rated dipped to 4.7 percent from 4.9 percent in December. Job growth in December was revised upward to a gain of 140,000, a revision of the 108,000 jobs gain reported last month.

"Overall, I see the report in line with the last six months to a year, which I would characterize as steady gradual improvement in the labor market, but it's not a dramatic improvement," said Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University.In the retail sector, apparel and accessories stores shed 13,400 jobs to employ 1.43 million in the first month of the year, while department stores cut 9,000 jobs to employ 1.58 million in January.

Steve Spiwak, an economist at Retail Forward, said, "Stores responded to strong early holiday demand by boosting hiring and the corollary is they had to make bigger-than-normal cutbacks in January after the holidays."

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