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As strong as U.S.-based manufacturing’s jobs performance looked on the surface in February, a closer look at the numbers released by the Labor Department this morning reveals that it was even better. The big reason? The 36,000 jobs that domestic industry gained last month came despite an 18,000 falloff in the automotive sector, which remained troubled not only by a global semiconductor shortage that will clearly end one of these days, but by a Canadian truckers’ protest that closed a bridge that’s a key transit route for Canadian-made auto parts needed by U.S. auto plants.

Moreover, revisions of previous months’ data were excellent. January’s initially judged 13,000 sequential employment pickup is now pegged at 16,000 and December’s advance was increased from an already upwardly revised 32,000 to 41,000.

Manufacturers didn’t quite keep pace with the rest of the country’s non-farm businesses in February (the Labor Department’s definition of the American employers’ universe). But given the torrid rate of recent economy-wide net job creation, that performance is hardly shabby, and it’s held its own – literally – during the entire sharp recovery achieved by the economy since its April, 2020 pandemic low point.

Before the CCP Virus began seriously distorting the economy’s behavior (in February, 2020), manufacturing jobs accounted for 8.38 percent of total non-farm payrolls. Including the new revisions, this figure had hit 8.40 percent in January of this year, but the February report showed a dip back to 8.38 percent.

The private sector story has been remarkably similar. Manufacturing employment represented 9.83 percent of that sector’s total jobs in February, 2020. Including the new revisions, the share had risen to 9.86 percent in January of this year, but as of Februay, it had retreated back to 9.83 percent.

Put differently, the entire non-farm economy has now replaced 19.886 million (90.43 percent) of the 21.991 million jobs lost during the terrible months of March and April, 2020. The private sector has replaced fully 20.092 million (fully 95.60 percent) of the 21.016 million positions it shed that spring. Manufacturing has replaced 1.184 million (86.93 percent) of its 1.362 million employment drop. But industry’s share of total jobs has stayed stable because its jobs depression in 2020 was less severe than the entire economy’s or the larger private sector’s

February’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners among the major sectors tracked by the Labor Department were highly concentrated – and all were among January’s stellar performers. They were:

>Fabricated metals products added 10,500 jobs on month – though January’s previously reported 5,000 advance is now estimated at 3,700, and the industry’s employment is still 2.95 percent below its immediate pre-pandemic February, 2020 levels (versus 1.39 percent for all of manufacturing);

>Machinery, whose 8,300 increase is especially encouraging, because its products are used so widely throughout the entire economy. But it’s still 2.92 percent shy of its job level in February, 2020;

>and food products, whose payrolls climbed by 7,200, and whose January results were revised up from a 5,200 improvement to 5,800. This progress brought pushed food manufacturing employment levels to 1.01 percent above those in February, 2020.

Meanwhile, automotive was February’s only significant jobs loser. Its 18,000 monthly employment nosedive was its worst such performance since last April’s 49,100 plunge (also due to semiconductor woes). At least its previously reported 4,900 January sequential jobs drop has been revised up to a 3,500 loss. But automotive employment is still 2.55 percent below immediate pre-pandemic levels.

As always, the most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, and their January employment picture showed improvement overall.

Payrolls in the semiconductor and related devices segment increased by 200 on month in January, consistent with their very slow growth over the last five years – including during the pandemic era. Interestingly, its companies actually hired more on net during the very sharp CCP Virus-induced recession of 2020 (by 0.59 percent). Since February, 2020, its payrolls are up by 0.86 percent.

Employment increases stayed strong in January in the surgical appliances and supplies sector, which contains personal protective equipment and similar goods. This industry added 1,700 jobs on net, December’s monthly advance remained at 1,100, and November’s results stayed at an upgraded 3,100 increase. Consequently, the surgical appliances and supplies workforce is now 3.41 percent bigger than in pre-pandemicky February, 2020.

January pharmaceuticals and medicines employment dipped by 100 sequentially, however, and December’s 2,400 hiring jump was downgraded to just 900. November’s 700 jobs growth figure was unrevised. Even so, employment in this sector is 8.23 percent higher than just before the major initial CCP Virus hit to the economy.

As for the medicines subsector containing vaccines, the January figures and revisions seem to reveal some lost hiring steam. January monthly job growth was just 500 – the weakest since July’s 100 – and December’s excellent initially reported 2,400 rise is now judged to have been 2,000. November’s own 2,000 increase was unrevised, though, and job growth in this sector since February, 2020 is still a robust 22.23 percent.

January was a much better month than December for the aviation cluster – except oddly for aircaft. That sector, dominated by Boeing, saw employment shrink by 800 sequentially – is worst such performance since July’s 900 drop. Yet December’s originally estimated 600 employment decrease was upgraded to a decline of 400, and November’s results remained at a downgraded 500 job gain. After these latest fluctuations, aircraft industry employment fell to 11.78 percent less than in February, 2020.

Aircraft engines and engine parts makers, however, hired 1,000 workers on net in January – theit best performance since May, 2020’s 4,700, which came early during the strong late-spring recovery from the virus-induced recession. December’s initially reported jobs gain of 500 was revised up to 700, but November’s loss of 300 stayed unrevised. So although employment in these companies in January was 14.07 percent less than in February, 2020, it’s been closing the gap lately.

A notable employment rebound came in non-engine aircraft parts and equipment, where payrolls rose by 500 in January sinking by an unrevised 900 in December. But November’s results were downgraded from no change to a decrease of 100. And the sector payrolls are still down 17.30 percent since Februay, 2020.

I’m holding off on my usual prognosis for U.S. manufacturing employment because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its likely non-trivial economic fallout for the United States, and its probably greater repercussions for the rest of the world (to which domestic manufacturers sell a great deal). U.S.-based industry’s resilience throughout the pandemic has been extraodinary, but big power conflict could create a new and much more formidable set of challenges entirely.