Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Employment in domestic textile and apparel factories during February continued to follow a long-term pattern of shedding jobs.
Apparel makers lost a seasonally adjusted 11,000 workers against January and textile mills dropped 8,000 workers from their payrolls.
Meanwhile, employment in apparel and accessory stores posted the fourth consecutive monthly gain in February, adding 7,000 workers to employ 1.23 million, which is 45,000 more than in February 2000.
Diane Kutyla, an economist in the Consumer Business Practice of Deloitte & Touche, said she was perplexed by the rise in apparel and accessory store employment.
“It’s kind of interesting given what we’ve been hearing about a lot of apparel retailers not doing well,” said Kutyla, chalking up the figures to the government overstating seasonal effects on the sector’s employment patterns. “If anything, what’s happening is the reverse, where stores are taking a second look at how their operations are doing.”
Employment at department stores, which had taken a dip in January — typical after the Christmas season — also posted an increase, adding 3,000 workers to employ 2.36 million. However, compared to year-ago payrolls, department stores last month employed 60,000 fewer workers.
In the overall economy, the unemployment rate during February remained unchanged at 4.2 percent against January. While 135,000 net jobs were added last month, mostly in the service industries, employment in manufacturing fell by 94,000, bringing to 371,000 the total factory jobs lost since June.
The loss of factory jobs follows the decline in economic growth since mid-2000. For the domestic textile and apparel industries, business is additionally affected by the ongoing competition from low-cost imports.
“The dollar is very strong against the devalued currencies out there and it’s really having an impact,” said Dave Link, chief economist at the American Textile Manufacturers’ Institute.
In addition to recent moves by textile mills cutting back workers or shuttering, another measure of the impact is the decline in textile shipments. According to the latest figures, textile shipments in January were 5 percent below January 2000, Link said.
However, Link noted that orders for textiles in January increased 2.8 percent against January for the third consecutive monthly uptick.
“That is a little bit encouraging,” said Link, adding that orders are still down 3.4 percent from year-ago levels.
The textile-apparel business climate has also caused factories to cut back on the hours worked.