WASHINGTON — Employment at domestic apparel and textile factories in June showed further erosion, combining to lose a seasonally adjusted 5,800 workers, the Labor Department reported Friday.
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Textile mills shed 3,100 workers last month against May, to employ 414,600, as apparel factories lost 2,700 jobs, to employ 287,400 workers. Industry officials point to increased competition from low-cost imports as the main cause of the ongoing declines.
U.S. manufacturers shed 11,000 workers overall in June against May, to employ 14.4 million, the first decline after four months of increases. Manufacturing employment had fallen for 42 consecutive months through January from the last peak in July 2000, when there were 17.3 million factory workers.
The state of employment, particularly in manufacturing, is a central issue in the contest between President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in the Nov. 2 election. Bush has pointed to improvements in employment, coupled with gains in Gross Domestic Product and productivity, as signs of economic recovery. Kerry has argued that the recovery from the 2001 recession has been superficial and cites the loss of almost 3 million manufacturing jobs during Bush’s tenure as an example.
The unemployment rate in June remained at 5.6 percent for the third consecutive month. Employers added 112,000 workers, while the pool of workers classified as entering the workforce grew by 305,000.
“These numbers show continued job growth in good-paying fields,” Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement. “We added 112,000 new jobs in June, making it the 10th straight month of job creation, with 1.5 million Americans finding new jobs since last August.”
In a speech on the economy at the White House, Bush said, “We don’t need boom-or-bust-type growth, we want just steady, consistent growth, so that our fellow citizens will be able to find a job, and so that the small business sector will feel confident about expanding.”
However, John Mothersole, an economist with Global Insights, said the small increase in jobs created “has to be viewed as disappointing.” Mothersole said the tempered jobs report bodes well for helping to keep inflation in check, a worry of economists as the economy has picked up its pace.
Much of the increase in jobs occurred in the health, social and technical services industries. However, clothing and accessories store retailers added 8,100 workers, to employ 1.3 million, the sixth consecutive monthly increase and 48,500 workers above June 2003.
Carl Steidtmann, chief economist with Deloitte Research, said the strong gains in clothing and accessories store employment largely reflect the sector’s expansion. As for the overall jobs report, Steidtmann called the small 112,000 increase in new jobs for the month “a little on the disappointing side.” But, he said, the government’s survey of household employment, which includes home-based businesses and self-employment, was more robust, with a 305,000 gain in workers.
General merchandise stores added 1,300 workers in June, to employ 2.8 million, which is 20,300 more than a year ago. Department store employment in June declined 3,100 jobs against May, to employ 1.6 million, or 8,800 below June 2003.