This morning’s figures from the Labor Department show that U.S. domestic manufacturing was a bit of a jobs creation laggard in March – and that was good news. The reason? The employment gains for the rest of the economy were so enormous.
This latest monthly U.S. jobs report showed that non-farm payrolls (the definition of the U.S. jobs universe used by the Labor Department, which tracks these data), rose by 0.64 percent in March – to 144.210 million. Job-creation in the private sector advanced at a virtually identical rate.
Payrolls in manufacturing were up by a lower 0.43 percent – to 12.284 million. But they still increased by 53,000 – their best performance since September’s 55,000. It’s also possible that hiring in the automotive sector was held down by a global shortage of semiconductors – which has led to production cutbacks and even some layoffs.
The only disappointment in the new manufacturing jobs numbers concerned revisions – which were mostly negative. February’s initially reported 21,000 net employment gain is now estimated at 18,000. January’s 14,000 job loss (already downgraded from an initially judged 10,000) is now pegged at a still greater 18,000. But December’s improvement was upwardly revised again – from 34,000 to 35,000.
As a result, manufacturing has now regained 63.83 percent (870,000) of the 1.363 million jobs the sector shed during the peak CCP Virus lockdowns period of last March and April. That’s fewer relatively speaking than the recovery in private sector employment – 66.88 percent (14.172 million) of the 21.191 million jobs it lost during that period.
But because of continuing weakness in the public sector – which has recovered just 66.42 percent of its 22.362 million job loss last spring – manufacturing’s payrolls’ rebound is still ahead of the entire economy’s. In fact, manufacturing jobs now account for a higher (8.52 percent) of total non-farm employment than during the last full pre-pandemic data month (8.39 percent in February, 2020).
The biggest manufacturing jobs winners in March? Far and away the champ was the big fabricated metals products industry, which expanded employment by 13,700 – more than a quarter of the manufacturing total. Next came two smallish sectors – miscellaneous non-durable goods and printing and related support activities (up 7,400 and 5,900, respectively). Encouragingly, jobs increased by 3,500 in the big machinery sector – whose products are used throughout not only the rest of manufacturing but the entire economy.
The worst performers were transportation equipment – whose 3,000 lost March jobs included 1,000 in the automotive sector, which has been forced into production cutbacks and some layoffs due to the global semiconductor shortage – and furniture (down 1,300).
Unfortunately, these latest figures indicate that employment in many CCP Virus-fighting goods continues to lag. To be sure, their payrolls seem to be up from the last pre-pandemic levels whereas overall manufacturing jobs are down (by 4.02 percent). But given the nature of the emergency, and the shortages it revealed, it’s surprising they’re not higher still.
The relevant numbers only go through February, and in the broad pharmaceuticals sector, employment rose by 1,600 sequentially. And January’s initially reported 700 job loss has been upgraded to a decrease of only 100. But the sector’s payrolls have grown by a mere 2.60 percent since that last pre-pandemic month of February, 2020.
The performance of the pharmaceuticals subsector containing vaccines was considerably better. February payrolls expanded by 1,300 sequentially, and January’s gains are now estimated at 500, not 100. As a result, this vaccine-related sector’s employment levels are now 6.23 percent higher than in February, 2020.
The story, however, has been more discouraging lately in the manufacturing category containing personal healthcare-related protection devices (PPE) like facemasks, gloves, and medical gowns. Payrolls were flat on month in February, and the initially reported January job loss of 800 was only upgraded to a decline of 700. Still, payrolls in this sector have climbed by 7.98 percent since February, 2020.
Interestingly, despite the rebounding orders for Boeing’s popular but previously grounded 737 Max jetliner, the recovery of national and global travel, and the resumption of deliveries of its also-troubled 787 Dreamliner, none of these positive developments has shown up in the aerospace jobs numbers.
For example, aircraft employment in February (also the latest available figures) grew by only 1,000 on month and not only remains down 10.66 percent on year, but substantially lower than all of last year’s safety crisis- and the worst of the CCP Virus-plagued months. Similar trends hold for aircraft engines and engine parts, and non-engine aircraft parts.
The outlook for domestic manufacturing job creation still seem bright, as vaccinations are being administered rapidly, reopenings are spreading, igniting renewed overall economic activity, Boeing does seem to be emerging from its safety and manufacturing-related troubles, and the high, sweeping Trump tariffs keep pricing many Chinese goods out of the U.S. market, thereby creating new opportunities for American producers.
But that global semiconductor shortage, which will eventually affect much more than automotive output, may not end until late next year. It’s tough to know the overall impact of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan and other Build Back Better virus recovery proposals on the one hand, and the tax increases proposed to pay for them on the other, as well as the new regulations that will be involved – assuming even that they pass Congress reasonably intact. And vaccines production won’t be booming forever.
So no one concerned about domestic manufacturing’s health and prospects has any excuse not to peruse carefully all the industry-related data and news that are in store in the weeks and months ahead.