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August 1997, Vol. 120, No. 8
Every industry in the American economy has been affected in some way by increased globalization and new developments in technology. Few, however, have felt the effects of these trends more acutely than the textiles and apparel industries. Indeed, these factors have been the primary reasons for the almost continuous employment decline in the industries for nearly 25 years. In 1973, for example, there were more than 2.4 million textile and apparel workers employed in the United States; by 1996, that figure had dropped to 1.5 million. This 39-percent decline contrasts with the 8-percent decline among all manufacturing workers, and the 56-percent rise in employment among all workers over the same period. In addition, job losses appear to be intensifying in the textile and apparel industries, and are projected to continue in the coming decade.1
While much of the job loss resulted from textile mills and apparel factories going out of business in the face of fierce domestic and international competition, a significant part of the decrease was caused by efforts made by companies to survive. In the past few decades, textile and apparel companies have been struggling to reinvent themselves. By investing in new technologies, merging to reduce costs, employing offshore plants to perform certain operations, and developing new products and services, they have been attempting to find a niche in the international market. According to some measures, they have been successful, as production has remained stable and many companies have been profitable. On the basis of other measures, howeversuch as employment and foreign trade balancesthey have not fared as well.
What emerges from recent changes in the international economy and the domestic textile and apparel industries is a complex picture of job loss and survival strategies. This dynamic is likely to increase in the coming years, as international trade continues to grow. As a result, employment declines are expected to continue. Still, as many firms adapt to the changes, the textile and apparel industries will remain an important provider of jobs, with employment projected to be more than 1.3 million in the year 2005.2 This article examines employment trends in the textile and apparel industries, reviewing the likely causes of both the recent historical and projected declines, their varied effects across occupational groups, and the response American producers have developed to adapt to rapidly changing economic realities. It attempts to sketch how the industry and its workers will fare in an uncertain and rapidly changing future.3
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1 Between 1994 and 1996, for example, another 162,000 textile and apparel jobs were losta 10-percent decline over the two-year span. Also, employment in the industries is projected to fall to 1.3 million by 2005. Historical employment figures are from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The CES is an establishment-based survey, collected in cooperation with State agencies from a sample of more than 390,000 reporting units employing over 47 million nonfarm wage and salary workers. Projections are from the Office of Employment Projections, BLS. For more information on these programs, including methodology and background, see BLS Handbook of Methods, Bulletin 2490 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1997), ch. 2, "Employment, hours, and earnings from the establishment survey," pp. 1527; and ch. 13, "Economic growth and employment projections," pp. 1229.
2 See the following two articles from the November 1995 issue of the Monthly Labor Review: James C. Franklin, "Industry Output and Employment Projections to 2005," pp. 4559; and George T. Silvestri, "Occupational Employment to 2005," pp. 6084.
3 For an earlier BLS analysis of employment trends in the textiles and apparel industries from 1939 to 1994, see Lauren A. Murray, "Unraveling employment trends in textiles and apparel," Monthly Labor Review, August 1995, pp. 6272
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