US Continues to Lose Textile and Apparel Manufacturing Jobs in 2017



It may disappoint those who are hoping a return of textile and apparel manufacturing jobs in the United States. But according to latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel industry (NAICS 315) respectively lost another 4,100 and 10,100 jobs in 2017.  Between January 2005 and December 2017, 44.2% and 56.3% of jobs in the U.S. textile and apparel sectors were gone.  

From the academic perspective, a sizable return of textile and apparel manufacturing job in the United States seems to be extremely unlikely given the nature of the U.S. and the global economy in the 21st century.

Notably, the rising import is found NOT a significant factor leading to the decline in employment in the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313). As estimated by a US International Trade Commission study in 2016, imports were found only contributed 0.4 percent of the total 7.6 percent annual employment decline in the U.S. textile industry between 1998 and 2014. Instead, more job losses in the sector were caused by: 1) the improved productivity as a result of capitalization and automation (around 4.6 percent annually); and (2) the shrinkage of domestic demand for the U.S. made textiles (around 3.5 percent annually).

And consistent with the prediction of classic trade theories, as capital and technology abundant developed country, the United States, not surprisingly, continues to lose its comparative advantage in making labor-intensive apparel. Hypothetically, apparel “Made in the USA” may come back if apparel manufacturing can be substantially automated like textile manufacturing. However, net job creation in the sector as a result of automation is hard to tell. Additionally, most U.S. apparel companies heavily rely on global sourcing and non-manufacturing activities such as branding, marketing, and design today. Few companies still regard “manufacturing” a key competitive advantage or an area of strategic importance to invest in the future.

Related reading: Creating High-Quality Jobs in the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry (UD Biden Institute)

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

3 thoughts on “US Continues to Lose Textile and Apparel Manufacturing Jobs in 2017”

  1. I think that there is an interesting dissonance between wanting the apparel and textile industries in the US to continue to employ a large amount of people and pushing the “Made in the US” agenda due to growing technology and automation. This automation replaces jobs, but without it, the US cannot stay competitive in the world economy. The US has the capacity to create the technology necessary to keep us competitive, but we have to decide as a country if that is worth the loss of jobs in the industry.

  2. This article made a good point in pointing out that the reason for these loss of apparel and textile jobs in the US are due to the advancing technologies in this country and countries similar to it. With the advancement of technology it is more effective to allocate our time, energy, and money into innovation and creating and perfecting new fibers that can revolutionize the apparel industry rather than using our labor force in simplistic tasks that are not as evolved as the people in the United States are. Since this country is fortunate to have a strong education system and values higher skilled less labor intensive jobs it is important to utilize that. Developing countries can prosper from having an industry that is heavily based on the work force and building the economy in that way. Overall, since the US is already established it is in their best interest to stray away from producing garments and textiles and focus more on innovation and creating things that other countries that may not necessarily have the resources cannot.

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