WASHINGTON — U.S. textile producers managed a rare rise in employment last month, adding 700 jobs, though overall industry payrolls fell by 14,700 from a year ago to 405,200.

The Labor Department’s report on May employment, released Friday, also saw monthly gains at apparel and accessories stores, but losses at apparel manufacturers and department stores.

Overall, the economy added 78,000 jobs in May, after adjusting for seasonal variations, and the unemployment rate improved nominally to 5.1 percent from 5.2 percent. Economists were looking for 185,000 jobs to be added, after April’s increase of 274,000.

“These indicators are going to be a little bit divergent as the recovery proceeds,” said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University. “[The recovery] is rocking and rolling, and we’re feeling the pitch, but the fundamentals are fine.”

The economy added an average of 175,500 jobs over the last six months and same-store sales last month rose an average of 2.9 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, which tracks 67 chains.

“If you look at it longer term, we’d like to see employment rising faster, but it’s not terrible,” said Standard & Poor’s chief economist David Wyss. “Overall, you have to say it was a weak report and it suggests to me that we’re going into another slowdown going into the summer.”

Overall textile employment hadn’t notched a monthly gain since March 2004. Textile mills, which have been decimated by imports over the last decade, added 100 jobs in May but dropped 13,300 since a year ago for total employment of 226,400. Textile product mill payrolls expanded by 600 for the month and were down 1,400 against a year earlier to 178,800.

Apparel manufacturers eliminated 4,500 jobs in May and cut 31,200 positions over the last 12 months to employ 257,900.

Retail fared better, as apparel and accessories stores added 3,200 jobs for the month and 31,700 from a year ago to employ 1.4 million, while general merchandise stores added 400 jobs in May and 18,500 from a year ago to hit 2.9 million. Within that category, department stores lost 200 jobs for the month, but added 12,200 from a year ago to employ 1.6 million.

This story first appeared in the June 6, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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