ATMI data reveal 2003 as a year to forget

Don Hogsett, January 26, 2004

Washington — In another tough year for an American textiles industry bedeviled by low-cost imports and a weak retail environment, sales of U.S. textiles continued to slide during 2002. As a result, the industry lost more than 10 percent of its jobs, said the American Textile Manufacturers Institute in a re-cap of last year.

Hurt as much by a faltering economy as the flow of imports, textiles industry shipments tumbled by 7.9 percent, to $39.8 billion from $43.2 billion the preceding year. Putting that number into perspective, that's the dollar equivalent of three companies as large as Pillowtex turning off their lights last year.

Giving up a meager 3 percent gain in 2001, corporate sales skidded down last year by 3.1 percent, the textiles trade group reported, to $47 billion from $48.5 billion in 2001.

With less product selling, fewer workers were needed to make or market it, and textile industry employment crashed by 10.5 percent last year, to 428,000 from 478,000 during 2001. The percentage amounts to a loss of 50,000 jobs, much of it stemming from the collapse of Pillowtex Corp. That came hot on the heels of an even greater 13 percent decline the preceding year. Put another way, the domestic textiles industry fired roughly one out of every four workers over the past two years.

Textiles turned out to be a particularly tough place to dodge bullets last year, and the rate of job loss was three times as high in textiles as for all of U.S. manufacturing — 10.5 percent versus 3.4 percent.

Those who were left on the blue-collar payroll were virtually running in place, with wages keeping pace with inflation. Average hourly earnings last year increased a skimpy 2.3 percent, to $12 an hour, just 27 cents more than in 2001.

Whatever they might have gained in wages, the labor force lost in hours on the job, as plants went on hiatus or closed down entirely. The index of hours worked tumbled by 12.4 percent, to a reading of 87.6 from the benchmark level of 100 in 2002.

"During 2003, the textile mill work-week was consistently below that of the comparable month in 2002," said ATMI. "This decreased activity pulled the average industry workweek for 2003 down by one hour and 36 minutes from 2002."

It backs up all the way down the supply chain, like tumbling dominoes. With fewer sheets and towels and shirts sold during 2003, a lot less cotton and polyester got used. Total fiber consumption fell by 10.9 percent, to 4.1 billion pounds from 4.6 billion pounds the year before, the sixth straight annual decline.

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