Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — U.S. apparel manufacturing during September dropped 8,000 more workers, as the textile industry rallied by adding 3,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The apparel industry last month employed 801,000 workers on a seasonally adjusted basis, which is 52,000 below September 1996 levels. Excluding an uptick in February 1996 — considered a statistical glitch — the apparel industry hasn’t added jobs since October 1994, when it employed 980,000 workers.
At the current rate, job loss in the apparel industry for 1997 is expected to just about match last year, when it lost 56,000 workers, an analyst with the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
Leading the job loss among apparel makers in 1997 are manufacturers producing men’s and boys’ shirts, underwear, neckwear, trousers and work clothing, which as a group shed 18,000 workers during the first seven months of the year, according to the latest available data. Second in the amount of jobs lost are women’s apparel manufacturers producing blouses, dresses, suits, skirts and shorts, which together have dismissed 9,000 workers.
“It’s a measure of the continued price competition [from low-cost foreign production],” said Carl Priestland, economist, American Apparel Manufacturers Association. “Consumers are buying apparel, but they are looking for a combination of price and quality.”
The typically higher-priced domestically produced apparel has also been placed at an even greater disadvantage since the recent devaluation of currencies among leading apparel exporting countries in Asia, Priestland said. “The fact that we have a stronger dollar also isn’t helping,” he said.
The precipitous drop in domestic apparel employment continues to foreshadow the obvious, said Donald Ratajczak, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University, Atlanta. “Pretty soon we’ll having nothing but production of time-dated products,” in addition to higher-end and specialty apparel, in which price isn’t a factor, he said.
While 1997 is expected to be the first in four years during which retailers have been able to increase retail apparel prices, the garments they’re marking up are increasingly foreign made, he said. “The forces that are making that happen are still in place: the strong dollar and competitive pressures from other apparel producing countries,” he said.
By contrast, the textile industry is faring much better, particularly in its increasing ability to export, thanks largely to demand created by the North American Free Trade Agreement and Section 807 apparel assembly operations in the Caribbean, Ratajczak said.
The textile industry in September employed a seasonally adjusted 607,000 workers, down from 618,000 the year before. Despite the loss, industry employment is faring much better than the two previous years. In 1996, the industry lost 25,000 workers, and in 1995, 42,000 employees were cut.
Ratajczak said the floor-covering sector of the textile industry is showing particular strength, in addition to man-made fibers used in apparel. The cotton broadwoven sector, however, still remains in tough competition with foreign suppliers, he said.
In the economy overall, the unemployment rate during September remained unchanged from August’s 4.9 percent, which is just shy of the 4.8 percent rate in July and May, the lowest level since 1973.
Meanwhile, the average hourly work week for apparel workers in September increased slightly to 37.5 hours from the prior month’s and September 1996 weeks, which were 37.3 hours.
The average work week for textile production workers last month was 41.4 hours, up from August’s 41.2 hours and the year-ago week of 40.9 hours.
The average hourly wage last month in the apparel industry was $8.37, up 13 cents from August and 37 cents from September 1996. The average hourly wage in the textile industry last month was $10.09, 7 cents above August’s wage and 31 cents above the year-ago wage.

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