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Why don't American job seekers learn to sew?

Double-digit unemployment? These firms can’t find workers

Arezou Rezvani December 24, 2011

LOS ANGELES—When local fashion firm Pinup Girl Clothing tried to ramp up production of its vintage-inspired apparel recently it hit a snag: It couldn’t find anyone to do the work.

The company spent a year trying to add 12 people to its 32-person manufacturing team in downtown Los Angeles. As the search dragged on, Pinup Girl fell two months back in its production schedule.

"There just aren’t a lot of people out there who have the skills that we’ve been able to find easily elsewhere in the world," says Laura Byrnes, Pinup Girl’s founder. "It’s still a problem for us," she says, adding, "Most of the sewers that you do find working are still in countries like Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala where there are still sewing factories."

Pinup Girl’s problem illustrates one of the puzzle’s of today’s slumping labor market. Unemployment in Los Angeles County, for example, has been stuck at or above 12 percent for more than three years. California has the second highest unemployment in the nation at 11.7 percent, after Nevada’s 13.4 percent. But as some industries try to expand, they’re bumping up against a workforce that lacks the right training. Even in a city with legions of unemployed, some firms still can’t fill spots for good-paying jobs.

Tens of thousands of sewing jobs fled to Asia more than a decade ago, attracted by low labor costs and booming supply. The rampant outsourcing sparked a sharp decline in job prospects for highly skilled textile workers. In 1996, apparel manufacturing in Los Angeles Country employed 105,00 people. In 2009, that number had fallen to 48,000.

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Filed under economy economics jobs immigrant workers immigrants clothing apparel sewers sewing skills