Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — Import pressures and an overall economic slowdown fueled the continuing downward slide in domestic textile and apparel factory employment in March.
The decline in apparel manufacturing eased from February’s drop of a seasonally adjusted 11,000 workers, though makers lost another 4,000 jobs in March, bringing the total to 611,000. Textile mills, which have had a more rapid tumble, dropped 3,000 more workers from their payrolls to end the month at 511,000 jobs.
Employment in apparel and accessory stores, which had bucked the trend last month with a gain, felt the impact this time around, losing 4,000 to employ 1.22 million, which is still 38,000 more than March 2000.
“We had a strong increase in February [in apparel and accessory stores], but I think that was an anomaly,” said Diane Kutyla, an economist in the Consumer Business Practice of Deloitte & Touche.
Department-store employment took a hit in March and fell by 19,000, to 2.36 million, compared to 2.38 million in February.
In the overall economy, the unemployment rate during March edged up 0.1 percent, to 4.3 percent, against February. A total of 86,000 jobs were lost, 81,000 of which were in manufacturing alone. Since January, the sector has lost a total of 270,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, the apparel and textile industry continued to suffer declines.
“We have had a rough time with low-cost imports and now we are being hit with an economic slowdown,” said Dave Link, chief economist of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
He said the decline in the average workweek — about one hour and 18 minutes shorter in the first quarter against the first quarter of 2000 — is more indicative of a slowdown. Another measure of the impact is textile shipments, which showed a slight 1 percent increase in February, the latest figures reported, to $6.13 billion. But Link noted that the figure is still “significantly below” February 2000, which had $6.6 billion in shipments.
Carl Priestland, an apparel industry consultant, attributed the gradual decline in the apparel manufacturing sector to outsourcing of sewing and cutting. He predicted more losses in the sector and expects the industry to end the year with less than 600,000 jobs.