It didn't take long for the United States to lose almost 90 percent of its jobs making clothes. In 1990, there were 938,000 Americans manufacturing apparel, but their jobs started to be outsourced in earnest after NAFTA was signed in 1994, then more precipitously after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, followed by the phase out of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement in 2004, which eliminated quotas on imported clothing.
[ by Richard A. McCormack | December 21, 2015 | Manufacturing & Technology News ]
As of November 2015, there were only 137,000 jobs left in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector -- an all-time low since data started being gathered in 1939 -- and down from 1.4 million apparel workers in 1970.
The United States, which for centuries was a nation that clothed itself, now depends on foreigners to produce 97.5 percent of its clothing.
With every American purchasing an average of 64 garments per year, imports of clothing continue to surge. For the 12 months ending October 2015, the volume of imports increased by 5.5 percent, while the value of that clothing rose to $84.5 billion.
Neoclassical, free-trade economists who have controlled American economic policy for decades believe that apparel manufacturing jobs are not worth keeping because they are low skill and low pay. It is okay to lose these jobs because they will be replaced by higher-skill, higher paying positions in the "knowledge economy."
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