Byline: Alison Maxwell

WASHINGTON — Employment in the domestic apparel and textile manufacturing industries continued to erode in August, declining by 12,000 jobs from July amid an otherwise strong national labor market, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The apparel industry ended August employing a seasonally adjusted 670,000 workers, down 10,000 from July and 89,300 below year-ago levels. Meanwhile, textile employment fell 2,000 workers in August to 557,000, which is 37,700 below August 1998 levels.
“The dropoff in apparel this month is the worst that it’s been in six months,” said Labor Department Chief Economist Harry Holzer. “But this is just part of a long-term decline, and some months will be worse than others.”
“Companies are going offshore,” remarked Carl Priestland, an apparel industry consultant. “The continuing price pressures are just forcing them to. They don’t feel that they can compete domestically.”
The drop in apparel and textile jobs occurred as the national unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent from 4.3 percent in July. The economy, however, created only 124,000 jobs in August, after adding 338,000 in July. Economists had predicted the addition of 200,000 to 300,000 jobs.
“It’s hard to characterize this as a good or bad report,” said Larry Horowitz, an economist with Boston-based Primark Decision Economics. “It reflects a slight slowing of the economy in general and a lack of rebound in the manufacturing sector in August, but there may be some seasonal factors going on.”
Holzer said the loss of jobs in the apparel and textile industries would not hurt the U.S. economy in general, but could impact certain areas of the country.
“Apparel is part of a larger problem in manufacturing that we’ve lost over 400,000 jobs over the last year and a half,” Holzer said. “Some of those jobs may come back, but the apparel jobs probably won’t, and that will affect the workers in regions of the U.S. that are more dependent on garment plants.” The average apparel workweek in August was 37.2 hours, down slightly from July’s average week of 37.4 and the August 1998 week of 37.6. The average textile workweek was 40.9 hours, down from 41.3 in July and 41.2 last year.
Employment at apparel and accessories stores in August dropped by 5,000 jobs to 1,182,000 from 1,187,000 in July, but it was up 30,000 jobs above a year ago. Department stores for the month showed a gain of 6,000 jobs to 2,484,000 from 2,478,000, and that was 98,000 jobs above August 1998.