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June’s gains weren’t nearly enough to overcome the latest trend in U.S. manufacturing employment: From a job growth leader earlier during the CCP Virus pandemic, domestic industry has turned into a laggard. It’s not lagging by a big margin, but given significant net headwinds it should still be enjoying, recent results are clearly disappointing.

This morning, the Labor Department reported that U.S.-based manufacturers created 15,000 net new jobs in June – a modest number given the 662,000 increase in total private sector employment on month. At least revisions were positive. May’s initially reported 23,000 monthly improvement is now judged to be 39,000, but April’s already downwardly revised 32,000 sequential job loss is now pegged at 35,000.

In many of the nation’s supposedly prestige colleges, the grade earned by this kind of result would be called a “Gentleman’s C.”

As a result, domestic manufacturing has now regained 904,000 (66.32 percent) of the 1.363 million jobs lost during the pandemic. The numbers for the private sector overall are 72.98 percent of the 21.353 million lost jobs that have been recovered, and for the total non-farm economy (the definition of the American employment universe used by the U.S. government, which includes government jobs) 69.75 percent of the 22.362 million jobs lost.

A manufacturing optimist (and I’ve been one of them) can note that industry took less of an employment hit during the pandemic-loss months of March and April, 2020. Manufacturing employment sank by 10.65 percent, versus 16.46 percent for the private sector and 14.66 percent for the whole non-farm economy.

But nowadays, domestic manufacturers are still benefiting from major tariffs plus massive government stimulus on both the fiscal and monetary fronts, and from the huge ramp up in vaccine production. Reopening-related bottlenecks clearly are causing problems, but according to the major national surveys that measure how manufacturers themselves believe they’re faring, production and new orders for their products keep growing strongly. (For the newest ones, see here and here.) Even given equally widespread reports that new workers are hard to find, I expected hiring to remain much more robust than it has.

One explanation may be higher productivity, which enables businesses to turn out more goods with fewer workers. But given the longstanding difficulties of gauging this measure of efficiency, and undoubted pandemic-era distortions, I’m reluctant to put too much stock in this argument.

The shortages issues have been once again illustrated by the dominance of the automotive sector in the June manufacturing jobs picture. Payrolls of vehicles and parts companies fell by 12,300 – the biggest individual sector decreases by far – and surely stem from the continuing global shortage of the computer chips that have become ever more important parts of cars and trucks of all kinds.

One small bright spot in the June figures – the 300 jobs increase in the machinery sector. It’s an important indicator of the overall state of industrial hiring, since its products are used throughout industry (as well as in non-manufacturing sectors like agriculture and construction). At the same time, these new positions represented machinery’s weakest sequential performance since January’s 3,200 employment decrease.

Other big June manufacturing net hiring winners were furniture and related products (up 8,500, no doubt reflecting still strong home sales and remodeling activity), fabricated metals products (up 5,700, which is noteworthy given still widespread whining about the ongoing U.S. tariffs on metals), and miscellaneous durable goods manufacturing (up 3,300 – encouraging since this category includes many pandemic-related medical supplies).

The biggest losers other than automotive were food products (down 4,100 and continuing an employment slump that began in January), electronic instruments (down 2,100 and possibly related to the semiconductor shortage), and printing and related activities (down 1,400).

Pandemic-related industries turned in a mixed hiring performance, according to the latest jobs report. Job creation accelerated significantly in the surgical appliances and supply sector, which contains protective gear like face masks, gloves and surgical goans. Its payrolls grew by 1,700 on month in May (its data are one month behind, as is the case with the other sectors examined below), up from April’s 1,200 and its best monthly total since last July’s 3,000. This surgical category’s workforce is now 11.50 percent bigger than in February, 2020 – the last pre-pandemic month.

But the May figures revealed a job creation setback in the overall pharmaceuticals and medicines industry. April’s hiring was revised down slightly, from 2,700 to 2,500, but the number was still solid. In May, however, its payrolls shrank by 400, its worst such performance since pandemicky April, 2020. And its workforce is only 3.82 percent greater than in February, 2020.

Better news came out of the pharmaceuticals subsector containing vaccines, but not that much better. This industry added one thousand workers on net in May, but April’s initially reported 1,300 jobs increase was revised down to 1,100. Still, this vaccines-heavy sector now employs 9.20 percent more workers than just before the pandemic.

And in aircraft, Boeing’s continuing manufacturing and safety issues surely helped produce this industry’s worst jobs month – consisting of a 5,500 payroll decrease – since June, 2020’s 5,800. This sector has now lost 9.39 percent of its jobs since the final pre-pandemic month.

Interestingly, the aircraft engines and parts, and non-engine parts categories weren’t nearly as hard-hit job-wise in May. (The former even maintained employment levels.) But payrolls in each are down since February, 2020, by roughly twice as much proportionately as in aircraft.

Major uncertainties still hang over the domestic manufacturing jobs scene, and in one important respect – big new backups in Chinese ports – they’ve become murkier. Nor do Boeing’s problems seem ready to end any time soon. I’m still bullish on U.S.-based manufacturing’s employment outlook, at least in the short and medium terms mainly because American policy remains so overwhelmingly stimulative and its effects are still coursing through the economy. But I’m getting a little impatient for the numbers to start backing me up once again.