WASHINGTON — In a generally bright employment picture last month, statistics were mixed for the textile and apparel industries.
The domestic textile industry in March gained a seasonally adjusted 2,000 jobs from February, while the apparel industry lost 2,000 workers, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Textile industry employment was 666,000 in March, while the apparel industry employed 945,000. Compared to a year ago, the apparel industry employed 47,000 fewer workers in March, while the textile industry had 3,000 fewer workers.
At retail, general merchandise stores increased their payroll substantially for the second month in a row, adding 19,000 positions for a total of 2,366,000, which is still 28,000 fewer workers than March 1993. In February, the industry added 15,000 workers from January.
Taken as a whole, the nation’s employment situation made a strong showing in March, with the unemployment rate at 6.5 percent for the second consecutive month. Crucially, the economy added 456,000 non-farm jobs, the largest monthly job creation since October 1987, when 556,000 new jobs were added.
Although the apparel industry has seen a continuous decline in employment since 1993, the trend is likely to be curtailed in coming months, forecasts Carl Priestland, economist with the American Apparel Manufacturers Association. With the economy expected to continue to strengthen, consumers should be more inclined to buy apparel, he said.
One signal of improved employment stability is the 2.5-hour increase in the average work week for the apparel industry in March, which increased to 38 hours from February, Priestland said. He noted, however, that part of this increase can be attributed to apparel factories recovering from the bad weather in January and February, which caused many companies to curtail production.
Likewise, the textile industry increased its work week in March to 42.3 hours, against February’s 40.2 hours, signaling a recovery from the winter months and an increase in production, said Dave Link, economist with the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
All economic indicators point to the textile industry continuing its present upswing, Link said, noting that new orders in February increased for the fourth consecutive month to $6.2 billion from January’s $6.1 billion. The previous record was March 1992, when they totaled $6.16 billion.
Meanwhile, the average hourly wage for apparel workers increased a cent to $7.23 in March against February, and 18 cents above March 1993. Textile workers in March were paid an average hourly wage of $9.02, up 2 cents from February and up 27 cents from year-ago levels.