U.S. Manufacturing Job Creation Gains More Momentum

The new U.S. manufacturing jobs figures (for April) is that the worse the economic news gets, the more U.S.-based industry apparently hires.

By Alan Tonelson

Today’s official April U.S. jobs report featured such a strong showing by U.S.-based manufacturers that, by one measure, they reclaimed title of America’s best job-creating sector during the CCP Virus era (and its aftermath?).

Domestic industry boosted its payrolls sequentially last month by 55,000 workers, its best such performance since July’s 62,000 gain. In addition, revisions were excellent. March’s initially reported 38,000 increase is now pegged at 43,000, and February’s upgraded 38,000 rise is now judged to have been 50,000.

As a result, manufacturing’s share of U.S. non-farm employment (the federal government’s definition of the American jobs universe), has improved from 8.38 percent in February, 2020 – the last full data month before the virus began roiling the national economy – to 8.41 percent as of last month.

And during this period, manufacturing’s share of America’s private sector jobs is up from 9.83 percent to 9.86 percent.

Domestic industry has recovered a slightly smaller share of the jobs it lost during the sharp pandemic-induced downturn of spring, 2020 (95.89 percent) than the private sector (97.62 percent). But it also shed fewer jobs proportionately than the rest of the private sector during that terrible March and April. (For the record, because of a drag created by public sector hiring, the share of all non-farm jobs regaine d now stands at 94.59 percent.

In all, U.S.-based manufacturing employment is now down a mere 0.44 percent from immediate pre-pandemic-y February, 2020.

April’s manufacturing jobs winners were broad-based, but the biggest among the major sectors tracked by the Labor Department were:

>transportation equipment, whose 13,700 employment improvement was its best such performance since last October’s 28,200. (Last month I erroneously reported that the sector’s best recent monthly performance was last August’s 19,000.) Unfortunately, March’s initially reported employment advance of 10,800 was revised down to 8,800, and February’s previously estimated 19,800 jobs plunge (the worst monthly performance since April, 2021’s automotive shutdown-produced nosedive of 48,100) is now judged to be 19,900. Bottom line: This sector’s employment levels are still 3.38 percent below those of that last full pre-pandemic data month of February, 2020;

>machinery, where 7,400 jobs were added on month – an especially encouraging result since its products are so widely used throughout the rest of manufacturing and the entire economy. Even better, March’s initially reported 1,700 employment increase was revised all the way up to 6,700, and February’s perfomance – which had been revised down from an 8,300 rise to one of 6,600, recovered a bit to 6,700. As a result, machinery employment is off just 1.55 percent from its February, 2020 levels;

>automotive, which boosted headcounts by 6,400 – its best monthly gain since last October’s 34,200 plant reopening-driven burst. But March’s initially reported 6,400 jobs rise was downgraded to 3,600, and even though February’s major job losses were revised for the better again, they’re still pegged at 14,000 – the worst since the 49,100 employees shed during the shutdowns last April. These gyrations have left the combined vehicles and parts workforce 0.78 pecent smaller than in February, 2020;

>plastics and rubber products, which upped employmment by 5,700 sequentially in April, the best such performance since last August’s 7,800. Job-wise, these sectors are now 3.38 percent larger than in February, 2020.

The only significant jobs losers in April were furniture and related products and miscellaneous durable goods. The former lost 1,100 positions in April, but employment has still inched up by 0.57 percent since pre-pandemic-y February, 2020. The latter – which includes much of the protective gear needed to fight and contain the CCP Virus – reduced employment by 1,400 sequentially last month. But this decrease was the first since last August’s 600 loss, and followed a strong 3,100 jobs gain in March. This catch-all category’s employment is now 1.54 percent higher than in February, 2020.

As always, the most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, and as with the rest of domestic industry for March, their employment picture showed improvement overall.

The semiconductor and related devices sector is still struggling to meet demand, but hiring continued its slow-but-steady pandemic-era increase in March with job gains of 700. February’s initially reported 100 employment loss now stands at a 100 employment gain, and January’s numbers stayed at plus-300 – the best monthly performance since last October’s 1,000. This sector now employs 1.34 percent more workers than in February, 2020 – impressive since during the sharp spring, 2020 economic downturn, it kept adding jobs.

The latest employment results were mixed for surgical appliances and supplies makers – a category within the aforementioned miscellaneous durable goods sector, and one in which personal protective equipment and similar medical goods abound. In March, the industry added 1,100 workers, but revisions completely wiped out February’s initially reported 800 jobs gain. The January hiring increase stayed at a downwardly revised 1,300. Even so, since just beforet the pandemic’s arrival in force in the United States, these companies have increased payrolls by 4.07 percent.

The very big pharmaceuticals and medicines industry continued to be a moderate employment winner in March. It hired an additional 900 workers on month, and though its February improvement was downgraded (from 1,300 to 1,000), the number was solid. Moreover, January’s hugely upgraded 1,100 employment rise stayed intact. Since February, 2020, this sector’s headcount is up fully 9.23 percent.

March jobs gains were more subdued in the medicines subsector containing vaccines, but they still totaled 400. February’s initially reported employment increase of 800 is estimated at just 500 now, and January’s identical increase stayed the same. But over time, this industry’s jobs growth has been impressive – 23.15 percent since the last pre-pandemic data month of February, 2020.

Good job gains continued in March in the aviation cluster as well. Aircraft manufacturers (including still-troubled industry giant Boeing) rose by 1,100 sequentially – the best monthly gain since last June’s 4,400. February’s increase was upgraded from 500 to 600, but January’s sequential job loss stayed unrevised at 800. This net increase brought aircraft employment to within 11.08 percent of its February, 2020 level.

The aircraft engines and engine parts industry followed February’s unrevised 900 hiring increase by adding 500 more workers in March. January’s results, however, stayed at a slightly downgraded 900 loss. And these companies’ still employ 12.65 percent fewer workers than in February, 2020.

The deep jobs depression in the non-engine aircraft parts and equipment sector remained deep in March, but a little less so. Jobs gains for the month totaled 700, February’s initially reported 200 increase was unrevised, and January’s way upwardly revised job rise was downgraded only from 1,500 to 1,400. But since just before the pandemic, the non-engine aircraft parts and equipment sector has still shrunk by 15.74 percent.

Having recently navigated its way skillfully through a once-in-a-century pandemic, a virtual shutdown of the entire U.S. economy, continuing supply chain disruption, multi-decade high inflation, a major war in Europe (so far), former export champ Boeing’s woes, and sluggish-at-best growth in much of the foreign markets it relies on heavily, it’s tempting to say that U.S-based manufacturing will have finally met its match if the Federal Reserve’s inflation-fighting campaign dramatically slows growth domestically — or worse.  But since the pandemic began, the next time the manufacturing pessimists are right will be the first.     

Alan Tonelson

ALAN TONELSON
Alan Tonelson, a columnist for IndustryToday, is founder of the RealityChek blog (alantonelson.wordpress.com), which covers manufacturing, trade, the economy, and national security. He has written for many leading publications on these subjects and is the author of The Race to the Bottom (Westview Press, 2000).

Copyright, RealityChek, 2022

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