Last week, I reported on a set of U.S. government jobs statistics that were new to me, and that painted a decidedly bearish picture of the American employment scene and indeed of the entire economy’s chances of avoiding a recession in the near future. Since then, I’ve learned two other important facts about this data series, which is called the Business Employment Dynamics (BED) series.
First, although it comes out quarterly, and with a two-three-quarter lag, it’s based on a sample more than ten times bigger than that used by the Labor Department’s main jobs statistics – the non-farm payrolls (NFP) numbers that come out in the form of breathlessly followed monthly reports. Second, according to the BED, manufacturing’s jobs gains during the current recovery have been even weaker than described by the NFP numbers. (So, by the way, is overall job creation, at least per the latest first quarter, 2015 BED figures.)
The ongoing recovery began in mid-2009, so for convenience’s sake, let’s look at the annual data from 2010 on. According to the NFP figures, on a December-to-December basis, from 2010 through the end of last year, domestic manufacturers added a net of 706,000 jobs. If you go January-to-January, the number is just 642,000. But both figures are higher than the comparable BED total of 628,000.
For the first quarter of 2015, moreover, the NFP numbers tell us that domestic manufacturers generated 26,000 net new jobs on a December-to-March basis, and 9,000 on a January-to-April basis. But the BED data reports that they generated no net new jobs at all during this period.
At least as interesting, according to the BED figures, gross manufacturing job gains of 385,000 in the first quarter of this year represented the lowest quarter total since the second quarter of 2009 – when the Great Recession ended and the sector on net was still hemorrhaging jobs. But the 385,000 job loss figure was pretty standard for the recovery once its early days of strong manufacturing snap-back from an historic recessionary dive had passed.
In theory, subsequent BED reports will reverse the pattern so far and reveal manufacturing employment figures more robust than those in the NFP reports. But if they don’t, it’s clear that all those claims of an historic American manufacturing renaissance will look farther off the mark than ever.