DOMESTIC APPAREL EMPLOYMENT CONTINUES DOWNWARD TREND

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Employment at domestic apparel makers in 2000 followed its years-long pattern of losses, falling a seasonally adjusted 48,000 jobs, while textile mills lost 25,000 workers, the Labor Department reported Friday.
At the end of the year, the U.S. apparel industry employed 621,000 workers, while the textile industry employed 524,000. For the month, apparel makers in December lost 9,000 workers against November, and textile jobs were down 5,000 during the period.
At their peaks, apparel employment reached 1.4 million in 1973, while in 1951, textiles had 1.3 million workers.
Foreign competition last year continued to take its toll on both industries, although the rate of job loss slowed in each sector. In 1999, the apparel industry dropped 66,000 workers, or 8.9 percent of its workforce, while in 2000, 7.17 percent of the workforce was lost. The textile industry in 1999 lost 32,000 workers, or 5.5 percent of its employees, compared with a 4.5 percent loss in 2000.
Carl Priestland, an apparel industry consultant, said it’s difficult to say why the rate of job loss has subsided in light of the double-digit increases in apparel imports in 2000.
“You still need some production here,” Priestland offered. “You can’t make everything 8,000 miles away.”
Priestland predicted that domestic apparel job losses will continue to subside to an employment base of around 500,000 workers.
Overall, the national employment situation ended the year on an upbeat note despite the downturn in the economy. The jobless rate in December remained unchanged at 4 percent. However, the government’s job report also showed a slowdown in growth of private payrolls to 49,000, the smallest increase since August’s gain of 17,000.
Maureen Allyn, chief economist at Scudder Kemper Investments, said the jobs report is considered a lagging indicator of economic activity. Therefore, last month’s report doesn’t reflect the economy’s loss of steam, in which third-quarter growth increased 2.5 percent from the second quarter’s robust 5.6 percent increase.
Allyn forecast the unemployment rate by the end of 2001 will increase to 4.5 percent, which she said is still relatively healthy. She said the economy should grow about 2.5 percent annually and that the chances of a recession — measured as two consecutive quarterly declines in economic activity — are low.
“We are not underestimating the risks,” Allyn said. “We have a one-in-three chance of a recession.”

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