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A payrolls loss even as the rest of the American economy continued to create gobs of jobs – that was the big manufacturing takeaway from this morning’s official release on U.S. employment for February.

Although job creation for the non-farm economy (the federal government’s definition of the U.S. employment universe) came in at a robust 311,000, domestic industry shed headcount (by 4,000) for the first time since April, 2021.

Moreover, the modest manufacturing job increase of January, which contrasted so strikingly with the blowout performance recorded by non-farm businesses overall, was revised down – from an initially reported 19,000 to 13,000. The initially reported January total U.S. jobs gain of 517,000 was reduced this morning as well. But unlike the manufacturing results, the new figure (504,000) is still astronomical.

The new February numbers pushed U.S.-based manufacturing deeper into CCP Virus-era employment laggard status. Since February, 2020 (just before the pandemic arrived in force in the United States), domestic industry has boosted headcount by 1.55 percent. the private sector overall by 2.59 percent, and the non-farm sector (which includes public sector workers at all levels of government) by 1.96 percent.

As of last month’s release, manufacturing jobs were up 1.67 percent since February, 2020, private sector jobs up 2.46 percent, and non-farm jobs up 1.77 percent.

Consequently, manufacturing’s share of non-farm jobs has sunk from the 8.38 percent calculable as of last month’s report to 8.36 percent, and from its immediate pre-pandemic level of 8.39 percent.

And its share of private sector jobs is down from the 9.80 percent calculable last month to 9.77 percent, and from its immediate pre-pandemic level of 9.87 percent.

February’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners were:

>computer and electronics products, which added 2,800 workers on month fo its best such performance since last October’s 3,300. In addition, January’s initially reported 700 employment drop is judged to be an increase of 100.

These companies’ workforces are now 2.08 percent higher than in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 1.77 percent increase calculable last month;

>chemicals, whose payrolls expanded by 2,500 in a resumption of a multi-year string of healthy monthly gains. Indeed, this sequential advance followed an upwardly revised loss of 1,400 jobs that was the sector’s worst such performance since the 2,200 decline in May, 2021.

Chemicals employment is now 7.40 percent greater than it was just before the pandemic struck versus the 6.80 percent growth calculable as of last month;

>beverage, tobacco and leather products (a new name for miscellaneous non-durable goods), which hired 1,900 workers in February. January’s initially reported rise of 5,000 (which had been its best such performance since last June’s 6,300 surge) has now been downgraded to one of 3,100, but remained strong nonetheless.

Job levels in this sector, therefore, are still up by an impressive 10.42 percent since February, 2020 – down just slightly from the 10.45 percent calculable last month; and

>non-metallic mineral products, which boosted payrolls by 1,500, but whose excellent first-reported January results (4,200 – thought to be the best since last February’s 5,600 pop) have also been downwardly revised (to 1,700).

Companies in this sector have now boosted their workforces by 3.74 percent since the virus’ arrival state-side in force, versus the 4.02 percent calculable last month.

February’s biggest manufacturing jobs losers were:

>plastics and rubber products, where employment fell by 4,700 to resume a weak employment stretch that began last October. January’s gain, meanwhile, was revised from 1,200 to 1,100.

Employment in these industries is now 2.99 higher than in February, 2020 – above the overall manufacturing figure but down from the 3.52 percent calculable last month;

>furniture and related products, which also continued a recent losing streak by cutting 2,800 positions. At least January’s initially reported decrease of 700 has been upgraded to one of 500. Headcounts in these sectors are now off by 3.60 percent since the CCP Virus began roiling the U.S. economy in February, 2020, versus the 2.71 percent calculable last month;

>textile mills, a very small sector whose 1,700 jobs retreat was its worst such perfomance since the identical decrease in July, 2020 – as the economy had begun recovering from the effects of the CCP Virus’ first wave. Further, January’s initially reported 900 jobs gain was revised down to one of 700.

These results left textile mill employment 10.88 percent lower than in February, 2020 versus the 8.91 percent calculable last month; and

>apparel, another very small industry, which cut employment by 1,300. This loss, moreover, comes on top of a January drop of 1,900 that was initially reported as one of 2,100. The apparel workforce is now 11.32 percent smaller than just before the pandemic’s arrival in force, versus the 9.02 percent calculable last month.

RealityChek has also been tracking employment in two industries of special importance to manufacturing and the economy overall, and both eaked out tiny hiring increases in February.

Machinery data have been an emphasis because its products are used to equip and modernize nearly all manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors. So changes in its workforce can signal optimism or pessimism about their prospects.

This big, varied sector extended its monthly job creation winning streak to nine in February, but by a bare 400. January’s results remained in the black, too, but were revised down from an increase of 2,000 to one of 1,000. Payrolls in machinery have now grown by 1.10 percent since just before the pandemic era began, in February, 2020, versus the 1.13 percent calculable last month.

Automotive’s February headcount gain was even smaller – just 200. Nor was it much of a rebound from January’s contraction, which was revised up from one of 6,500 loss to one of 5,100. But the automotive workforce is now 5.91 percent larger than in February, 2020, versus the 5.70 percent calculable last month.

Monitored by RealityChek as well have been several narrower sectors that have attracted special attention during the CCP Virus era, but where the data are always a month behind those of the above broader sectors, Their employment performances were overall positive but with one exception modestly so.

The shortages plaguing the semiconductor industry have bled over into much of the rest of the economy in recent years, which largely explains why Washington has now decided to spend tens of billions of dollars over the next decade to support more domestic production.

Jobs in the category called “semiconductors and related devices” inched up by 300 in January, but – continuing a pattern described above elsewhere in manufacturing – December’s initially reported increase of 800 is now judged to have been just 400. The workforce in this grouping has now grown by 10.79 percent since just before the pandemic struck in full force – a figure that’s better than it looks since these companies’ cut relatively few jobs during the short but deep virus-induced downturn of spring, 2020.

Aircaft manufacturing was pummeled by a combination of pandemic-era travel curbs and Boeing’s production woes, but employment lately has staged a strong comeback. January’s net new hires numbered 400 and December’s initially reported jump of 1,100 has been upgraded to one of 1,500.

Job levels in the sector have now closed to within 3.45 percent of their immediate pre-pandemic numbers, versus having been down 5.56 percent as of last month’s jobs report.

Aircraft engines and engine parts-makers added just 100 new employees in January, but December’s increase of 800 – the best such performance since July’s 900 – remained unrevised. Their payrolls are now just 7.97 percent lower than their immediate pre-pandemic total versus the 8.08 percent shortfall calculable last month.

Non-engine aircraft parts producers reduced their workforces by 100 in January, but December’s hiring increase was revised from 100 to 200. So their headcounts are still off by 16.44 percent during the pandemic period – the same figure calculable last month.

Surgical appliances- and supplies-makers have been in the spotlight since the virus’ arrival in force, since this grouping contains so many of the products used to fight the pandemic. They increased their workforces by 100 in January, but December’s initially reported loss of 400 is now judged to have been one of 500.

As with non-engine aircraft parts their employment level since February, 2020 stayed the same as calculable in December, but in the case of surgical appliances and supplies, the change has been positive – by 1.14 percent.

The big pharmaceuticals and medicines sector was a notable exception to this employment pattern of marginal change, as its companies’ boosted employment by 1,800. But these gains followed December cuts that were upgraded from an initially reported 1,100 to 2,000 – the sector’s worst such performance since the 2,900 nosedive last July.

Yet upward revisions in previous months enabled the gain in the pharmaceuticals and medicines employment to rise since February, 2020 from the 14.25 percent calculable last month to 14.54 percent.

The news was much worse in the pharmaceutical sub-sector that contains vaccines. Employment tumbled in January for the second straight month (by 100) and December’s initially reported plunge of 1,200 is now pegged as one of 1,300.

These drops depressed this grouping’s employment expansion since immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020 – but only from the 20.10 percent calculable last month to a still sterling 19.90 percent.

With the U.S. economy lately growing more vigorously than widely predicted, it’s certainly possible that its surprising strength will bring an end to manufacturing’s ongoing production recession and its recent weak hiring.  And the federal government has certainly been trying to lend a helping hand via the aforementioned semiconductor subsidies, along with an infrastructure bill, and  green subsidies – both of which contain Buy American requirements. 

But it’s also possible that the last few months’ worth of data are telling us that the fortunes of manufacturing and the rest of the domestic economy are being decoupled.  Indeed, industry’s still towering trade deficit is one indication, making clear that the consumption of manufactures remains much greater than their production. 

Compounding the uncertainty:  February’s manufacturing jobs loss could be washed away via revisions in next month’s jobs report.  But at the least, this first employment drop in nearly two years might signal that domestic manufacturers are no longer hoarding workers as zealously as other sectors of the economy have been.  If so, expect manufacturing employment to continue stagnating.