Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The erosion in jobs continues in the American apparel and fabric industries.
Domestic apparel makers in April employed 2,000 fewer workers than in March, and jobs in American textile mills fell by 1,000, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Compared with April 1999, U.S. apparel makers last month employed 655,000 workers, 43,000 fewer than a year ago.
There were 548,000 domestic textile workers last month, 19,000 below year-ago levels.
The dip in apparel and textile employment continues a year-long downturn as producers seek lower wages abroad, especially in the garment industry.
Don Ratajczak, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta, said the job loss could be exacerbated by the tight U.S. labor market and manufacturers inability to find workers or increase wages to retain them.
With the accelerating economy pushing the overall U.S. unemployment rate in April down to 3.9 percent from 4.1 percent in March, “we barely have anyone who’s looking for a job,” Ratajczak said.
Ratajczak said there was no doubt the Federal Reserve at its next meeting May 16 would raise interest rates again to slow the economy and head off an increase in consumer prices.
Larry Horowitz, senior economist with Primark Decision Economics Inc. in Boston, said an interest rate hike shouldn’t dampen consumer confidence and spending.
“Gradual increases in interest rates don’t seem to have an impact on consumer confidence,” Horowitz said.
He said things could change, however, if higher interest rates slowed the rate of growth in the home building and remodeling industries. That’s a sign of consumers pulling back, “and then you see a ripple effect in all kinds of consumer spending.”
Not all the news was glum, though, as retail sectors showed some gains.
Employment in department stores during April was 2.46 million workers, an increase of 2,000 against March, although that represented a decline of 36,000 from year-ago levels. Apparel and accessories store jobs increased 9,000 in April to 1.20 million, which is 41,000 above year-ago levels.