Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Employment in the domestic apparel industry during August continued its downward path, as textile mills also lost jobs.
Apparel manufacturers dropped 4,000 workers from their payrolls in August to employ 806,000, which is 51,000 below year-ago levels. Textile mills last month employed a seasonally adjusted 604,000 workers, down 3,000 for the month and 17,000 from August 1996 levels.
Lower-priced foreign production, made even more lucrative because of the buying power of a strong dollar, are working together to sustain the progressive movement of U.S. apparel manufacturing offshore, said Carl Priestland, economist, American Apparel Manufacturers Association.
It’s an ongoing balancing act in which manufacturers seek to offset the higher cost — and necessity — of domestic operations with foreign production, he said. “If we’re going to stay in the business, we have to compete with imports,” Priestland said.
Jeff Sands, director of the national apparel practice with KPMG Peat Marwick, said U.S. apparel makers continue to fine-tune their strengths as designers, merchandisers and marketers. While some companies can succeed in producing in the U.S. with a lean operation that responds quickly to reorders, for many others, manufacturing abroad is the only profitable answer, he said.
“We have a brutally competitive market,” he said. “What’s keeping the remaining apparel jobs here is quick response, proximity to market and manufacturers’ flexibility.”
As employment in the apparel industry dipped, the average hourly work week for production workers increased in August to 37.2 hours from July’s 36.9 hours, but was just below the 37.4-hour week from a year ago. The average hourly work week at textile mills remained constant in August at a strong 41.3 hours, which is just above the 40.9 hours from August 1996.
In the overall national economic picture, August’s jobless rate edged up a bit to 4.9 percent from July’s 4.8 percent, an uptick largely pinned to the United Parcel Service strike. As a result of having 185,000 UPS employees out of work for 15 days, the employment roles showed only 49,000 jobs being created last month. By contrast, in July, 365,000 jobs were created.
Among the sectors to add jobs last month were department stores, which added 10,000 workers to their payrolls to employ 2.471 million workers, which is 70,000 above year-ago levels. Apparel and accessories store employment increased 3,000 to 1.098 million workers, which is 3,000 below August 1996.
Last month, the average hourly textile wage was $10.03, up 1 cent from July and up 31 cents from year-ago levels. Apparel wages last month increased to $8.24 from July’s $8.21. Compared with August 1996, hourly apparel wages last month were up 30 cents.

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