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When it comes both to the U.S. economy in general and domestic manufacturing in particular, this morning’s official jobs report (for July) strongly supported a widely held supposition of economists – that employment is a lagging indicator of trouble.

That’s because laying off workers supposedly is seen as a last resort by businesses facing bad times, and the new results for non-farm payrolls (the U.S. government’s definition of the national jobs universe) seems to have validated this view in spades. Even though the economic growth has been slowing dramatically from last year’s rapid pace, employers boosted their headcounts by a stunning 528,000 last month (including 471,000 in the private sector). And even though inflation-adjusted American manufacturing production has fallen for the last two data months (May and June – the July results will come out August 16), U.S.-based industry added workers for the fifteenth straight month.

Indeed, July’s 30,000 increase in manufacturing jobs was the biggest monthly gain since April’s 61,000. And the numbers included the best hiring month of all time (or at least since that data series began in 1990) for the big pharmaceuticals and medicines industry. Moreover, revisions left the solid results of June and May virtually unchanged.

As a result, domestic manufacturing employment is 0.32 percent higher than its level in February, 2020 – just before the CCP Virus struck the U.S. economy in force and sent economic activity spiraling downward. Last month, when it finally regained its pre-pandemic jobs levels, the net gain was 0.09 percent.

Since July’s overall jobs improvement was so great, manufacturing is no longer the economy’s post-pandemic employment champion. That title has passed again to the total private sector, where payrolls are now 0.49 percent higher than in February, 2020. But manufacturing’s net job creation pace continues to exceed that of the non-farm economy (which includes the public sector). Its workforce is just 0.02 percent larger than just before the pandemic’s arrival.

The huge July surge in non-farm and private sector net hiring did depress manufacturing’s share of those workforces – from 9.86 percent of private sector jobs to 9.85 percent, and from 8.42 percent of non-farm jobs to 8.41 percent. But manufacturing employment is still up in relative terms since February, 2020 – climbing from 9.83 percent of private sector employment and 8.38 percent of non-farm employment.

Job-creation winners abounded throughout manufacturing’s major sectors in July, with the standouts being:

>fabricated metals products, where payrolls grew by 4,200. Revisions, however, continued to be weak, with June’s sequential loss remaining at 600; May’s originally reported 7,100 surge revised lower first to 6,900 and now to 6,600 (still the best since February’s 9,300 pop); and April’s results staying at a twice downgraded 1,400. Employment in this big sector is now 2.04 percent below its immediate pre-pandemic levels, versus the 2.31 percent shortfall calculable last month;

>miscellaneous durable goods (the major category containing many of the key medical devices used to combat the virus), which added 3,700 workers in its strongest monthly performance since last November’s 10,400. But revisions were on balance negative here, too, with June’s initially reported 2,400 job growth now judged to have been 1,700, May’s initially upgraded 1,300 advance downgraded to 1,000, and only April’s results breaking the pattern, with its upgraded 600 job loss staying unchanged.

Miscellaneous goods’ workforce is now 2.79 percent higher than in February, 2020, versus the 2.36 percent calculable last month;

>chemicals, which remained on a hot streak last month. Its companies added 3,700 employees on month in July, its June performance was revised way up from a 1,200 improvement to 4,500, its initially downgraded May rise upgraded to 5,100 (the greatest improvement since January’s 5,500), and April’s increase settling at 1,700 after being first reported as 1,000. As of July, 5.84 percent more workers were employed in the chemicals industry than in February, 2020, versus the 4.83 percent calculable last month; 

>machinery, which RealityChek regulars know is a bellwether for the rest of manufacturing and the whole economy because of how widely its products are used. Its employment increased by 3,400 on month in July; June’s initially reported 1,000 rise is now pegged as 1,600; May’s initially reported 3,200 job decrease has now ben revised all the way up to a jobs gain of 200; and April’s final total stayed at a twice downgraded 5,800. Consequently, machinery employment has rebounded to within 1.47 percent of its immediate pre-pandemic level, versus the 2.05 percent shortfall calculable last month; and 

>computer and electronics products, which contains shortage-plagued semiconductor sector, also boosted its employment by 3,400 sequentially in July. June’s initially reported 2,300 net new job creation is now judged to have been 2,000, but May’s totals were revised up a second time, to 5,300 (its best monthly performance since the 6,300 recorded in May, 2020, during the economy’s strong bounceback from the first CCP virus wave), and April’s thrice upgraded figure remained the same at 4,900. This progress pushed headcounts in this sector 0.41 percent above their February, 2020 levels, versus the 0.11 percent calculable last month.

The worst performers among July’s few maufacturing losers:

>paper and paper products, where employment fell month-to-month by 1,200. At the same time, June’s initially reported 1,200 job increase was upgraded to 1,500; May’s advance was revised down but still remained at an increase of 700; and April’s initially downwardly revised 1,300 employment rise stayed at an upwardly revised 2,100 increase. Nonetheless, there are now 0.86 percent fewer jobs in paper and paper products compared with February, 2020, versus the 0.22 percent dip calculable last month;

>textile mills, whose July employment was off by 600. Revisions were mixed, with June’s initially reported jobs bump of 700 now judged to have been 300, but May’s initially reported payroll decrease of 700 now upgraded to a loss of 400, and April’s upgraded 800-job increase remaining the same. Since just before the pandemic arrived,, however, textile mill jobs have shrunk by 6.18 percent, versus the 5.15 percent calculable last month; and

>furniture and related products, where headcounts sank by 600 on month. Worse, revisions on balance were decidedly negative. June’s initially reported employment improvement of 100 is now considered to be a drop of 1,100; May’s results, first reported as a 1,000 jump, were downgraded a second time to a mere 100 advance; and April’s initially reported 1,100 drop have been revised up only to 900 job loss. Whereas as of last month, the furniture complex’s workforce had risen to 0.60 higher than its February, 2020 level, it’s now sunk back to 0.03 percent lower.

As always, the most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, and most turned in performances even better than manufacturing as a whole.

The semiconductor industry is still struggling with the aforementioned shortages that are hampering so many other parts of the economy. But the 1,700 jobs it added on month in June were the most since the 1,800 in January, 2019, and revisions were positive. May’s initially reported 800 jobs gain is now pegged as having been 1,000 and April’s first reported 100 increase has been upgraded more than ten-fold – to 1,100.

The upshot seems to be that the recent high profile announcements of new domestic microchip fab construction are showing up in the employment data. As of last month, the sector’s payrolls were only 2.20 percent higher than just before the pandemic’s large-scale onset (though in fairness, semiconductor employment actually rose during the steep 2020 downturn). As of today, however, employment is up 3.22 percent during that period. (Note: The 1,400 semiconductor job growth I said last month took place in December, 2021 in fact came in the previous December. Apologies for the error.)

In surgical appliances and supplies (which includes so many of the personal protective equipment and other medical goods so widely used to fight the CCP Virus), June employment dropped by 800 – these companies’ worst monthly performance since last July’s 1,100 decline. At least revisions were positive. May’s initially reported gain of 400 is now estimated at 500, and April’s figure stayed at an upgraded loss of 100. The surgical appliances and supplies sector now employs 3.69 percent more workers than in February, 2020; last month, this increase had been 4.36 percent.

The pharmaceuticals and medicines industry, by contrast, generated record-smashing net job creation in June. The 4,300 rise was the biggest monthly total ever in a data series that goes back to 1990, and greatly eclipsed the old mark of 3,200 recorded in September, 2019. Revisions, moreover, were excellent, with May’s initially reported 100 payroll decline now raised all the way up to a 1,200 gain, and April’s increase remaining at an upgraded 1,500. Headcounts in these businesses are now 11.58 percent higher than just before the pandemic, versus the 10.10 percent calculable last month.

The much smaller medicines subsector containing vaccines performed well on the jobs front, too, hiring 1,100 net new workers in June. In addition, May’s initially reported 600 increase is now judged to have been 700, and April’s monthly improvement stayed at 1,100. This subsector’s workforce has now expanded by 26.29 percent since just before the pandemic arrived in force, as opposed to the 24.47 percent calculable last month.

An aerospace cluster hit especially hard by CCP Virus-related travel restrictions experienced another robust employment month in June.

Aircraft companies hired 1,500 net new workers on month, and revisions were excellent as well. May’s initially reported net new hires figure was upgraded from 1,300 to 1,600 – their best such performance since last June’s increase of 4,400 (mis-reported last month as a rise of 4,000). And April’s advance remained at an upgraded 500. As a result, the aircraft workforce is only 9.64 percent smaller than just before the pandemic arrived, versus the 10.30 percent calculable last month.

Aircraft engines and engine parts jobs were up by 800 sequentially in June, May’s initially reported increase of 700 was revised up to 900, but April’s results stayed at a downwardly revised 800. This improvement enabled employment at these firms to come within 9.81 percent of their February, 2020 levels, versus the 10.91 percent calculable last month.

These increases were mirrored in the non-engine aircraft parts and equipment industry, which added 600 workers on month. May’s initially reported 300 jobs increase remained unrevised as did April’s upgraded 400 increase. The non-engine aircraft parts and equipment sectors, as a result, crept to within 14.62 percent of their employment levels of February, 2020, versus the 15.14 percent calculable last month.

The big questions for American workers, and domestic industry as a whole including manufacturing, are whether economic growth will really continue to deteriorate further (here’s a recent forecast that it won’t, at least in the third quarter); and if it does, will businesses continue to “hoard” labor. Let me know if there’s anyone you trust to provide accurate answers.