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U.S.-based manufacturing’s employment performance has been so strong lately that the 18,000 net gain for May reported in today’s official U.S. jobs report was the worst such performance in more than a year – specifically, since April, 2021’s 28,000 employment loss. And even that dismal result stemmed mainly from automotive factories that were shut down due to semiconductor shortages – not from any underlying weakness in domestic industry.

Moreover, revisions of the last several months’ of sizable hiring increases were revised higher. April’s initially reported 55,000 increase is now pegged at 61,000, and March’s headcount boost was upgraded again, this time all the way from 43,000 to 58,000.

Indeed, taken together, this payroll surge has enabled U.S.-based manufacturing to increase its share of American jobs again. As of May, industry’s employment as a share of the U.S. total (called “non-farm payrolls” by the Labor Department that releases the data) rose sequentially from the 8.41 percent calculable last month to 8.42 percent. And the manufacturing share of total private sector jobs climbed from the 9.86 percent calculable last month to 9.87 percent..

The improvement since February, 2020 – the last full data month before the CCP Virus’ arrival began roiling and distorting the entire U.S. economy – has been even greater. Then, manufacturing jobs represented just 8.38 percent of all non-farm jobs and 9.83 percent of all private sector employment.

Domestic industry still slightly lags the private sector in terms of regaining jobs lost during the worst of the pandemic-induced recession of March and April, 2020. The latter has recovered 99.01 percent of the 21.016 million jobs it shed, compared with manufacturing’s 98.75 percent of its 1.345 million lost jobs.

But the main reason is that industry’s jobs losses during those months were smaller proportionately than those of the private sector overall.

Viewed from another vantage point, the May figures mean that manufacturing employment is just 0.13 percent smaller than just before the pandemic struck.

May’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners among the broadest individual industry categories tracked by the Labor Department were:

>fabricated metals products, which boosted employment on month by 7,100 – the sector’s biggest rise since since February’s 9,300. Its recent hiring spree has brought fabricated metals products makers’ payrolls to within 2.24 percent of their immediate pre-CCP Virus (February, 2020) levels;

>food products,where payrolls grew by 6,100 sequentially in May. Employment in this enormous sector is now 2.53 percent higher than in February, 2020;

>the huge computer and electronics products sector, whose headcount improved by 4,400 over April’s levels. As a result, its workforce is now just 0.19 percent smaller than in immediate pre-pandemic-y February, 2020;

>wood products, which added 3,800 employees in May over its April levels. Along with April’s identical gain, these results were these businesses’ best since May, 2020’s 13,800 jump, during the strong initial recovery from the virus-induced downturn. Wood products now employs 6.85 percent more workers than in February, 2020; and

>chemicals, a very big industry whose workforce was up in May by 3,700 over the April total. The result was the best since January’s 5,500 sequential jobs growth, and pushed employment in this industry 4.76 percent higher than in February. 2020.

The biggest May job losers among those broad manufacturing groupings were:

>transportation equipment, another enormous category where employment fell by 7,900 month-to-month in May. That drop was the biggest since February’s 19,900 nosedive. But it followed an April monthly increase that was revised up from 13,700 to 19.500. All this volatility – heavily influenced by the aforementioned semiconductor shortage that has plagued the automotive industry – has left transportation equipment payrolls 2.57 percent smaller than just before the pandemic’s arrival in February, 2020;

>machinery, whose 7,900 sequential job decline in May was its worst such result and first monthly decrease since November’s 7,000. Moreover, April’s initially reported 7,400 payroll increase in machinery is now judged to be only 5,900. These developments are discouraging because machinery’s products are used so widely throughout the entire economy, and prolonged hiring doldrums could reflect a slowdown in demand that could presage weakness in other sectors. Machinery payrolls are now down 2.12 percent since February, 2020; andent since February 2020; and

>miscellaneous nondurable goods, where employment shrank in May by 2,900 on month. But here again, a very good April increase first reported at 3,300 is now judged to have been 4,400, and thanks to recent robust hiring in this catch-all category, too, its employment levels are 8.12 percent higher than in February. 2020.

As always, the most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, and their April job creation overall looked somewhat better than that for domestic manufacturing as a whole.

Semiconductors are still too scarce nationally and globally, but the semiconductor and related devices sector grew employment by 900 on month in April – its biggest addition since last October’s 1,000. March’s initially reported 700 jobs gain was revised down to 400, and February’s upgraded hiring increase of 100 stayed unrevised. Consequently, payrolls in this industry are up 1.66 percent since just before the pandemic arrived in full force, and it must be kept in mind that even during the deep spring, 2020 economy-wide downturn, it actually boosted employment.

The news was worse in surgical appliances and supplies – a category containing personal protective equipment (think “facemasks”) and similar medical goods. April’s sequential jobs dip of 200 was the worst such performance since October’s 300 fall-off, but at least March’s initially reported 1,100 increase remained intact (as did February’s downwardly revised – frm 800 – “no change.” Employment in surgical appliances and supplies, however, is still 3.88 percent greater than in immediate pre-pandemic-y February, 2020.

In the very big pharmaceuticals and medicines industry, this year’s recent strong hiring continued in April, as the sector added 1,400 new workers sequentially – its biggest gains since last June’s 2,600. In addition, March’s initially reported increase of 900 was revised up to 1,200, and February’s slightly downgraded 1,000 rise remained unchanged. Not surprisingly, therefore, this sector’s workforce is up by 9.78 percent during the CCP Virus era.

Job creation was excellent as well in the medicines subsector containing vaccines. April’s 1,100 monthly headcount growth was the greatest since last December’s 2,000. March’s initially reported payroll rise of 400 was upgraded to 600, and February’s results stayed at a slightly downgraded 500. In all, vaccine manufacturing-related jobs has now increased by fully 24.47 percent since February, 2020.

Aircraft manufacturers added just only 200 employees on month in April, but March’s jobs gain was revised up from 1,100 to 1,200 (the best such result since last June’s 4,000), and February’s upwardly revised 600 advance remained unchanged. Aircraft employment is still off by 10.96 percent since the pandemic’s arrival in force.

Aircraft engines and engine parts makers were in a hiring mood in April, too. Their employment grew by 900 sequentially, March’s 500 increase was revised up to 600, and February’s unrevised monthly increase of 900 stayed unrevised. Payrolls in this sector have now climbed to within 11.56 percent of their level just before the CCP Virus hit.

As for the non-engine aircraft parts and equipment sector, it made continued modest employment progress in April, with the monthly headcount addition of 300 following unrevised gains of 700 in March and 200 in February. But these companies’ workforces are still 15.48 percent smaller than their immediate pre-pandemic totals.

The U.S. economy is clearly in a period of growth much slower than last year’s, and since there’s no shortage of actual and potential headwinds (e.g., the course of the Ukraine War, the Fed’s monetary tightening campaign, persistent lofty inflation, the likely absence of further fiscal stimulus), no one can reasonably rule out a recession that drags down manufacturing’s hiring with it. But until domestic industry’s job creation and production growth starts deteriorating dramatically and remains weak, today’s so-so employment figures look like a breather at worst – and not much of one at that.