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16 percent of growth

In the first three months of this year, defense work accounted for nearly 16 percent of the nation's economic growth, according to the Commerce Department. Military spending leaped 15.1 percent to an annualized rate of $537.4 billion, up from $463.3 billion in the comparable period of 2003, when Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq over.

"That's pretty good, considering it's only 3 to 4 percent of the economy," said Joseph Liro, an economist at the New Jersey-based research firm Stone & McCarthy. "For one quarter, that's a pretty big number."

It is impossible to know how many of the 708,000 jobs created in the past three months are defense-related, since the Labor Department does not track defense contractor employment. But anecdotal evidence suggests the contribution is significant.

The flagging textile and apparel industry, which lost 50,000 jobs last year, gained 2,400 in April and is up 500 through the first four months of 2004, said Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services. That is the first net job gain for the industry in the first four months of any year since 1990, the last year for which the Labor Department maintained statistics. Since civilian textile demand is satisfied largely through imports, "Buy American" military orders must be driving the increases, McMillion said.

In pockets of the country, the effect is magnified greatly, as in picturesque St. Marys, Ohio, 90 miles north of here, where a 65-year-old red-brick Goodyear plant bustles around the clock, building the tracks for the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicles, supplies of which have been dangerously depleted. Goodyear officials refused to open the plant for a visit or even to comment on operations and employment there. Workers also would speak about the factory only on condition of anonymity.