State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade (Updated September 2019)

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The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. The value added of U.S. textile manufacturing totaled $19 billion in 2018, up 25% from 2009 and reaching its highest level in the past ten years. In comparison, U.S. apparel manufacturing dropped to $9.2 billion in 2018, its lowest level in history (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019).

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Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.14% in 2018 from 0.57% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019).

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The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for nearly 70% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2018, up from 58% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019). Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber production by 2012, suggesting non-apparel textile products, such as industrial textiles and home textiles have become a more important part of the industry (Census Bureau, 2019).

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Despite the growing popularity of “Made in the USA”, manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. From January 2005 to August 2019, employment in the U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) declined by 44.3% and 59.3% respectively (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). However, improved productivity is one important factor behind the job losses.

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Consistent with the theoretical prediction, U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. In 2018, the U.S. enjoyed a $1391million trade surplus in textiles and suffered a $79,406 million trade deficit in apparel (USITC, 2019). Notably, over 40% of U.S.-made textiles (NAICS 313 and 314) were sold overseas in 2018, up from only 15% in 2000. Meanwhile, from 2009 to 2018, the value of U.S. yarns and fabrics exports increased by 31.3% and 43.6% respectively (OTEXA, 2019). On the other hand, because of the regional trade patterns, close to 70% of U.S. textile and apparel export still, go to the western hemisphere today.

by Sheng Lu

Discussion questions:

  1. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
  2. Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
  3. What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

6 thoughts on “State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade (Updated September 2019)”

  1. Question: Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?

    Answer: Depending on the way one approaches the question, they will land on a different answer. On one hand I believe that strictly in terms of textile exports the U.S. is doing fairly well and is sure to do better in the future. This is largely in part to automation in the industry creating an increase in textile outputs and a decrease in textile jobs. With that being said, it can be argued that in terms of textile employment the textile industry is actually in really bad shape.

    Question: Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.

    Answer: I believe that textile and apparel “Made in the USA” might have a future if the right technology is made to fully automate the manufacturing process. Currently, the cost of labor in the U.S. is too high for American companies to look toward sourcing from the U.S.

    Question: What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?

    Answer: The top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry are automation, trade wars, and ethical sourcing practices.

    1. great comments! do you mind elaborating more why “ethical sourcing practices” is one of the top challenges facing the US textile industry? “Made in the USA” is often regarded as involving lower compliance risk compared with most developing countries.

  2. 1. Both the U.S. textile and apparel industry have been decreasing throughout the past couple of years. The use for textiles in the U.S. is not as desired as it used to be and the apparel industry has drastically been dropping. Automation has been affecting the textile industry and might help improve their system.

    2. I do not think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” has a future. The employment rate in both the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing has significantly declined by about 50% each in the past 14 years. They have also had a major loss in jobs due to their productivity.

    3. In today’s global economy, automation has become a huge challenge for the U.S. textile industry to adapt too. There have also been many job losses in the industry as well as all the issues with the trade wars affecting the industry.

  3. 1. I think the US textile and apparel industry could be considered in good shape based on the statistics presented by the article. In particular, the textile industry has been observed to maintain its growth although the apparel industry might have to work on improving its manufacturing figures. Still, it cannot be denied that both industries contribute to the national GDP.
    2. “Made in the USA” is a positive effort to improve local textile industry. However, I think we still have a long way to go before this statement would actually be felt by garment workers and consumers in the country. If we have enough resources to reduce imports, maybe this could happen in the near future.
    3. The top challenges faced by the US textile and apparel industry today are the localization of textile and apparel manufacturing, the increasing trade tariffs imposed by governments, technological advancement, and labor conditions in manufacturing companies.

  4. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
    I think the U.S. textile industry is in good shape with producing a product but is not in good shape of employing Americans. I believe the rise in industry is due to technology and population growth.

    Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    I feel to the general public made in the USA will be profitable because they don’t understand the whole concept of producing garments. however, now I do not feel pride when buying a US item unless the product specifically says that all parts of the production chain were produced in the US.

    What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?
    The top challenges facing the US is the advancement of technology and cheap labor in other countries. If products can be produced faster and cheaper in another country, a brand will move production to that company. A huge issue is the risk of tariff wars against China because most of our products are made in China. One change to price cause a ripple effect in the US economy.

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