State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade (Updated October 2020)

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 output of U.S. textile manufacturing (measured by value added) totaled $18.79 billion in 2019, up 23.8% from 2009. In comparison, U.S. apparel manufacturing dropped to $9.5 billion in 2019, 4.4% lower than ten years ago (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020).

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has hit U.S. textile and apparel production significantly. Notably, the value of U.S. textile and apparel output decreased by as much as 21.4% and 14.9% in the second quarter of 2020, respectively, compared with a year ago. This result was worse than a 15% decrease during the 2008-2009 world financial crisis.  Further, the decline in U.S. textile exports is an essential factor contributing to the significant drop in U.S. textile manufacturing. In the first seven months of 2020, the value of U.S. yarn and fabric exports went down by 31% and 19%, respectively, year over year (OTEXA, 2020). 

Additionally, as the U.S. economy is turning more mature and sophisticated, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.13% in 2019 from 0.57% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020).

The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textile products had accounted for over 66% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2019, up from 58% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020). Textiles and apparel “Made in the USA” are growing particularly fast in some emerging markets that are high-tech driven, such as medical textiles, protective clothing, specialty and industrial fabrics, and non-woven.

As production turns more automated, the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing sector is NOT creating more jobs. Even before the pandemic, from January 2005 to January 2020, 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, 2020). However, improved productivity (i.e., the value of output per employee) could be a critical factor behind the net job losses.

Data further shows that COVID19 has resulted in more than 83,700 job losses in the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing sector between March-April 2020, of which around 80% have returned as of September 2020. Nevertheless, the downward trend in employment is not changing for the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing sector.  

Consistent with the theoretical prediction, U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. In 2019, the U.S. enjoyed a $1,633million trade surplus in textiles and suffered an $80,637 million trade deficit in apparel (USITC, 2020). Notably, nearly 40% of textiles “Made in the USA” (NAICS 313 and 314) were sold overseas in 2019, up from only 15% in 2000 (OTEXA, 2020). On the other hand, because of the regional supply chain, close to 70% of U.S. textile and apparel export go to the western hemisphere, a pattern that stays stable over the past decade.

by Sheng Lu

Discussion questions:

  • Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
  • Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
  • What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

4 thoughts on “State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade (Updated October 2020)”

  1. 1) Despite the fact that many people are losing jobs in the industry, I do think that the textile industry is in good shape. The US has experiences a significant trade surplus in textiles and the amount of textiles sold overseas in 2019 has drastically increased from 15% to 40%. The textile and apparel industry is still doing well.

    2) I do think that textiles and apparel made in the USA has a future. US textile output has increased to 66%, up from 58% in 1998. The United States is also experiencing a 1.6 million dollar trade surplus, as well as following a stable export pattern to the western hemisphere. I believe that the US textile industry will continue to steadily grow well into the future.

    3) The biggest challenge facing the United States apparel and textile manufacturing industry will be increasing their apparel export. Although their textile export was at a surplus, apparel export is at an 80 million dollar deficit. The United States needs to find a way to increase apparel exports which will be made especially difficult due to trade regulations and restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    1. May I “challenge” your point for the first question– it is NOT that the trade surplus enjoyed by the US textile sector increased from 14% to 40%, but more US-made textiles end up sold overseas today. However, due to COVID-19, the export market becomes quite unstable. In particular, close to 70% of US textile exports target western hemisphere. is it too risky? or you think it is fine here?

  2. 1. Based on the evidence in this post, it seems that the U.S. textile industry and apparel industry are in relatively good shape. I think that both sectors have promising futures based on the increasing productivity of both the textile and apparel industries. However, since this productivity increase has led to more unemployment within these sectors, it’s questionable how good this will be for the American people in the long run. Clearly, COVID-19 has halted caused harm to the value of U.S. textile and apparel exports; though with the increasing sophistication of the textile industry I believe the U.S. will be able to recover and grow.

    2. Based on the statistics, I do believe that textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future. I drew this conclusion because the significant increase in textile outputs along with the change in the nature of the textile industry. In addition, since the U.S. is growing so fast in more tech-driven markets, we can see that American-made textiles and apparel are valuable and have a promising future.

    3. The top challenge facing the U.S. textile and apparel industries in today’s economy during COVID-19 is the increasing unemployment rates. Since most U.S. textile and apparel production has become automated, there was already a significant decrease in jobs within these industries. We can then clearly see from the data that COVID-19 has resulted in even more people to lose their jobs within these sectors, not to mention countless others. With these employment rates already decreasing to begin with, it’s hard to believe that there will be any opportunities for employment (particularly in manufacturing) in the future.

  3. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
    – Despite COVID-19 and the loss of many jobs in the textile and apparel industry, I believe for the time being the US is in pretty good shape. After seeing the trade surplus increase from 15% in 2019 to 40% in 2020, I think this shows promise for the US textile and apparel industry.

    Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    – I believe “Made in the USA” has a future with the US textile and apparel industry. I say this because the US western fashion companies have realized that consumers are becoming more socially aware. This is become prominent in the fact that the US textile output has increased 6%.

    What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?
    – A top challenge I see in the U.S textile and apparel industry is the decline in U.S. textile exports. This is an essential factor contributing to the significant drop in U.S. textile manufacturing.

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