WASHINGTON — Employment at domestic textile and apparel factories continued to decline in May, the Labor Department reported Friday.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, textile mills last month lost 2,000 workers against April to employ 434,000, which is 51,000 fewer than in May 2002. Apparel factories trimmed 3,000 workers from their payrolls during the month to employ 520,000 or 55,000 workers less than a year ago.

Employment at general merchandise stores in May declined by 17,000 workers to 2.9 million, which is also 17,000 below year-ago payrolls. Department stores last month employed 2.56 million workers, down 14,000 from April and down 15,000 from May 2001.

Apparel and accessory stores added 3,000 jobs in May to employ 1.17 million people or 25,000 below year-ago payrolls.

The dip in textile and apparel jobs and the mixed employment picture at retail occurred as the unemployment rate in May saw its first decline in three months, dipping to 5.8 percent from an eight-year high of 6 percent.

However, economists said the job picture isn’t showing marked improvement and continues to mirror a sluggish economy led by cautious consumers.

“There is some unemployment in the pipeline that is still going to hit home to consumers as we move through the summer,” said Frank Badillo, senior retail economist with Retail Forward Inc., Columbus, Ohio. “It will be late in the year before there is a real bounce back” in the economy and employment picture.

Rajeev Dhawan, director of economic forecasting at Georgia State University, said a good measure of the stagnant job market is the increase in time people are remaining unemployed. The government reported the number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer rose by 142,000 to 1.6 million.

“Job growth is very anemic,” Dhawan said.

Another sign of the weak job market is the fall in the average hourly work week in manufacturing overall, which dipped to 40.3 hours from 40.4 hours. Typically, when demand picks up manufacturers increase their work weeks before adding new employees.

The average textile mill work week in May fell to 41.2 hours from April’s 41.6 hours, as the apparel factory work week fell to 36.9 hours from 37.1 hours.

However, the value of shipments from domestic apparel and textile factories has increased, according to April figures, the latest available. The Commerce Department recently reported that textile mill shipments in April increased 6 percent against March to $3.82 billion. Apparel shipments for the period increased 3.6 percent to $5.05 billion.

But compared to the year before, textile shipments in April were down 2 percent and apparel shipments were off 4 percent.”

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