Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The domestic apparel industry trimmed 9,000 jobs from its payroll in September on a seasonally adjusted basis, as the textile industry employed 2,000 fewer workers, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The decline in jobs continued to represent historic lows in the twin industries, while the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent from its already low 4.1 percent.
The apparel industry ended last month with 635,000 workers, down 43,000 from September 1999 levels. The textile industry in September employed 539,000, which was 13,000 below year-ago payrolls.
Carl Priestland, an apparel industry consultant, said job loss in the sector will slide further, particularly as U.S. companies begin to avail themselves of new duty-free benefits in the already booming garment production center of the Caribbean Basin. However, Priestland said the rate of declines in U.S. apparel employment appear to be tapering off.
As is the case with apparel, the U.S. textile industry continues to suffer from import competition, said David Link, chief economist with the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. Link said U.S. mills are still being battered by the “lingering effects” of the Far East currency devaluations three years ago, which continue to translate into increased imports at lower prices.
Link said the decline in mill jobs during September, coupled with drops in the average textile work week in August and September, could portend a continued falloff in textile orders and shipments. The average textile mill work week last month dipped to 40.7 hours. In August, the work week was 40.8 hours, down from July’s 41.2 hours.
Last week, the Commerce Department also reported that new orders for domestic textiles in August were down 4 percent against July and down 6 percent from August 1999. Shipments were down 1 percent in August against July and were down 1.2 percent from year-ago levels. At $6.439 billion, shipments in August were at their lowest since March 1999.
The new orders and shipment figures, along with declines in textile jobs and work week, indicate the increase in textile industry business seen earlier in the year is fading, Link said.
“We could see three consecutive years of declines in shipments in the textile industry,” Link said. “The economy is doing well, but the textile industry isn’t sharing in it.”
Meanwhile, employment at department stores in September increased by 9,000 workers, to 2.4 million, as apparel and accessory stores gained 2,000 workers to employ 1.21 million. Department store employment last month was 14,000 workers below September 1999 levels, and apparel and accessory store jobs were 22,000 above a year ago.