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U.S. manufacturing’s eight-month streak of hiring gains ended in January, with industry shedding 10,000 jobs from December’s levels. Also dimming the results reported for the sector in this morning’s offiical employment figures were moderately negative revisions. Moreover, despite the CCP Virus emergency, and the vaccine production ramp up, job creation in health care-related manufacturing (where the most detailed figures only go up to December) remained disappointing.

Although the manufacturing jobs revisions for November and December weren’t nearly as great as the unusually large changes for the Labor Department’s overall U.S. jobs universe (called “non-farm payrolls”), they still weakened the employment outperformance recorded by the sector since job levels bottomed out in April.

December’s originally reported on-month manufacturing jobs increase was downgraded from 38,000 to 31,000. And although the November data saw their second upward revision (from 27,000 to 35,000 and now to 41,000), the findings for October fell all the way from 43,000 to 32,000. (They were originally reported as 33,000.)

The January numbers mean that manufacturing has regained 58.91 percent (803,000) of the 1.363 million jobs it lost during the pandemic’s first wave and resulting sweeping lockdowns in March and April.

That pace is now slightly behind that of the total private sector, which since April has recovered 60.34 percent (12.788 million) of the 21.191 million jobs lost last spring.

But manufacturing’s employment is still faring better than the total non-farm sector (which includes hard hit state and local governments). Overall, as of January, the economy has regained just 56.27 percent (12.47 million) of the 12.321 million jobs lost in March and April.

Despite decreasing in toto in January, employment in some manufacturing sectors nonetheless improved. These winners were led by the big chemicals industry (up 10,500), food products (2,200), and miscellaneous durable goods, computer and electronics products, and wood products (up 1,300 each). Within the computer sector, payrolls in semiconductors and related devices rose by 1,800.

January’s biggest losers were non-metallic mineral products (down 6,400), automotive (off by 5,300), fabricated metals products (a 4,100 loss), and electrical equipment and appliances (down 3,200).

Unfortunately, given its importance as an equipment supplier to the manufacturing sector and other important U.S. industries, employment in machinery declined by 700 on month in January, and revisions were deeply negative.

Also discouraging were the most recent jobs figures for healthcare-related manufacturing, especially given the vaccine progress and months of national alarm about dangerously inadequate domestic production of these critical goods.

Generally, employment increases continued, but the pace remains sluggish. For example, the broad pharmaceuticals and medicines sector added 2,200 jobs in December, and revisions were slightly positive. But payrolls here have grown by a mere 2.09 percent since February – the last month before the virus’ health and economic impact began to be fully felt.

Employment advanced again in December in the sub-sector containing vaccines. But about half of the sequential increase of 1,100 was offset by downward revisions for October and November. And this sub-sector’s total headcount is up just 4.35 percent since February.

The opposite pattern was seen in the manufacturing category containing personal healthcare-related protection devices (PPE) like facemasks, gloves, and medical gowns. Its payrolls rose fell by 400 sequentially from November to December, but revisions for the previous two months rose by the same miniscule total. Still, this industry’s 8.08 percent job growth since February led healthcare manufacturing by a wide margin.

Despite January’s setback, a reasonable case can be made that manufacturing’s employment prospects still look bright for several reasons. Progress will surely keep being made on the PPE front. Vaccine production is set to surge. A large aerospace sector long hobbled by Boeing’s safety woes is seeing the company’s troubled 737 Max model being recertified for flight by more and more countries. Any national and global recovery will see demand for air travel revive.  And because President Biden has decided to keep Donald Trump’s steep, sweeping tariffs on imports from China in place for the time being. Consequently, industry can be expected to supply more U.S. demand than usual as the economy returns to normal however quickly or slowly.