, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Although U.S. manufacturers grew their payrolls by a solid net 27,000 in July, according to the Labor Department’s new jobs report for the month, the big story for industry lies in the June revisions. As often the case during the CCP Virus era, moreover, these were dominated by the automotive sector.

Specifically, June’s initially reported monthly 15,000 manufacturing jobs increase was boosted all the way up to 39,000. And the automotive numbers for June executed a stunning turnabout – from an estimated loss of 12,300 to a gain of 2,700. By contrast, net hiring in the vehicles and parts sectors for July was a quiet 800.

The May manufacturing employment revisions were less dramatic – from an increase 39,000 to one of 36,000. But that month had already witnessed its own huge revision – from an initially reported 23,000 to that 39,000.

Outside automotive, the June revisions were widespread through manufacturing, led by electrical equipment and appliances, whose employment increase that month was upgraded from 1,700 to 3,600. (Its July net job creation was a mere 200.)

Even with the strong revisions, though, manufacturing’s recent status as a U.S. recovery employment laggard continued. As of July, domestic industry had regained 952,000 (68.74 percent) of the 1.385 million net jobs lost in March and April of 2020. The numbers for the private sector overall are 76.96 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) 74.50 percent of the 22.362 million jobs lost.

One reason, of course, is that manufacturing employment suffered less than payrolls in the rest of the economy in the early spring of 2020. Its job levels fell by 10.82 percent, compared with 16.46 percent for the private sector and 14.66 for the entire non-farm economy.

At the same time, U.S.-based industry is still benefiting from stiff tariffs on metals and goods from China, and like the entire economy, is being supported by massive government stimulus along with skyrocketing vaccine production. This puzzle may be explained by the bottlenecks and resulting shortages plaguing all industries, and by the introduction of labor-saving equipment and other restructuring to substitute for the workers so many manufacturers claim are so hard to find. But as I wrote in last month’s examination of the June jobs report, I’m not completely convinced yet by either explanation.

The biggest July manufacturing employment winners by far of the major industry categories used by the U.S. government were machinery (6,800), miscellaneous durable goods (5,500), and fabricated metals products (4,500).

The performance of the first two is especially encouraging, since machinery’s products are used so widely throughout the entire economy (and since robust hiring therefore signals widespread overall strength and healthy capital spending); and since miscellaneous durable goods includes the personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies whose importance has been underscored by the pandemic.

Indeed, as a result of their July jobs gains, machinery employment has risen to within 3.30 percent of its immediate pre-pandemic level (in February, 2020), and the comparable figure for miscellaneous durable goods is 1.09 percent higher. (More on the performance of its PPE-including category will be presented below.) Both figures are better than that for manufacturing overall, whose payrolls are still 3.38 percent lower than just before the CCP Virus began significantly affecting the economy.

The only July manufacturing jobs losers suffered overwhelmingly fractional sequential setbacks, led by transportation equipment overall (the category containing automotive, where employment sank by 1,500) and semiconductors and electronic components, where global shortages undoubtedly had much to do with its job loss of 800.

Returning to the pandemic-related industries, where the data are one month behind, the picture in surgical appliances and supplies (the sector containing PPE) is dominated by a big downgrade in the May numbers – from a gain of 1,700 to a loss of 900. And in June, 500 more positions were shed. As a result, employment in this crucial national health security sector has fallen to 7.60 percent above immediate pre-pandemic levels.

In the overall pharmaceuticals and medicines industry, a slightly upgrade of May’s originally reported 400 job loss (to a drop of 300) was followed by a June rise of 2,700 – the biggest monthly advance since September, 2019’s 3,500 (well before the CCP Virus arrived). Its employment levels have consequently climbed to 4.72 percent above their February, 2020 figure.

The pharmaceuticals subsector containing vaccines showed continued good job growth, with May’s unrevised 1,000 improvement followed by an identical June increase. This industry now employs 10.20 percent more workers than just before the pandemic.

Aircraft employment levels have fluctuated wildly recently, due surely to the constant barrage of news both good and bad about Boeing. May’s 5,500 job plunge – the worst such performance since June, 2020’s 5,800 shrinkage – was followed by a June gain of 4,500. That’s its best hiring month since the same number of workers was added in July, 2012. But aircraft employment is still 7.55 percent less than in February, 2020, when the pandemic’s spread globally decimated air travel worldwide. On a more positive note, however, Boeing seems to believe the worst is over.

Aircraft engines and parts employment has been much more stable than aircraft’s, and these industries added 500 workers in total in June. But their payrolls are 14.91 percent smaller than in February, 2020 – nearly twice as big a proportional drop as in aircraft.

What’s next for domestic manufacturing employment? Last month I saw plenty of sources of uncertainty, ranging from bottlenecks to the infrastructure legislation to China tariff policy. Now there’s the virus’ hyper-contagious (but so far less harmful) Delta variant to contend with, and all the resumed lockdowns and other economic activity restrictions it could portend – along with the related likelihood of continued strong and even greater vaccine demand (though the sector isn’t big enough to move the national manufacturing jobs needle much).

I’m still most impressed by how all the national and regional surveys keep showing that manufacturers themselves see a still-brightening future ahead. (See, e.g., here and here.) After all, they’re the ones with skin in the game. Let’s hope they’re right.