Maybe the next sets of official figures will show that U.S.-based manufacturing is finally succumbing to a series of formidable obstacles that have been placed in its way recently and not-so-recently: signs of a slowing U.S. economy, a Federal Reserve whose anti-inflation policies seem certain to undercut growth, major troubles in the big export markets so important to domestic industry, a super-strong dollar that harms its price-competitiveness all over the world, and continuing supply chain snags.
Yet as of the October jobs data released on Friday, domestic industry has continued to hire – which is almost always a sign of optimism from the employers with skin in the game.
Domestic industry added 32,000 workers on month in October, and revisions were positive. September’s initially reported gain of 22,000 was bumped up to 23,000. After being revised up from 22,000 to 29,000, the August numbers received another upgrade, to 36,000. And July’s final figure came in at an upwardly revised 37,000.
As a result, manufacturing payrolls are now 1.07 percent greater than in February, 2020, the last full data month before the CCP Virus pandemic began massively weakening and distorting the entire economy. As of last month’s jobs report, the pandemic-era gain had been 0.74 percent.
In fact, manufacturers’ hiring in October was so strong that it moved into the national post-February, 2020 job-creation lead. Employment in the overall private sector has expanded by just 1.03 percent since then, and in the entire American jobs universe – which includes public sector jobs and which the U.S. Labor Department calls “non-farm payrolls” (NFP) – is up only 0.34 percent.
As a result, manufacturing jobs now make up 9.87 percent of all U.S. private sector jobs, versus the immediate pre-pandemic figure of 9.83 percent, and 8.43 percent of all non-farm jobs, versus the 8.38 percent figure in February, 2020.
The October increases, moreover, kept manufacturing employment at its highest level (12.880 million) since November, 2008’s 13.034 million.
October’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners among the broadest sub-sectors tracked by the U.S. Labor Department were:
>the computer and electronics products industries, which boosted employment by 5,400 – its best such perfomance since the 6,300 workers added in June, 2020, early during the strong recovery from the first wave of the CCP Virus.
Revisions overall were mixed, though. September’s initially reported increase of 400 was downgraded to a loss of 500. August’s performance was first downgraded from a 4,500 increase to a 3,600 advance and then back up to one of 4,200. And July’s originally reported ise of 3,300 remained at 4,200 after being revised up to 3,900.
Consequently, computer and electronics employment is now up 1.41 percent since February, 2020, versus the 0.94 percent calculable as of last month. And although the increase seems small, it’s important to remember that these companies only cut headcounts modestly during the deep but short recession brought on by the virus’ first wave and lockdowns and voluntary behavior curbs it sparked;
>fabricated metal products, whose payrolls climbed by 5,200. Revisions were negative on balance. September’s initially reported increase of 6,300 – the best since May’s 6,600 – was revised down to 5,500. August’s improvement, already downgraded from 4,700 to 2,800, was upgraded to 3,100. And after an upgrade from 4,200 to 4,600, July’s increase is now judged to be 4,300.
Yet this big sector’s employment closed to within 1.04 percent of its February, 2020 level, versus the 1.36 percent gap that remained as of last month;
>transportation equipment, another very big group of industries, which expanded headcounts by 4,700 in October. Revisions? They were huge and generally positive. September’s initially reported increase of 8,400 was revised down to 4,700. But August’s figures, which had been upgraded all the way from a 2,400 gain to one of 10,500 saw a near-doubling 20,900 – the best such total since March’s 25,000 burst. July, also massively upgraded from a 2,200 increase to one of 12,600, remained at a further upgraded 13,600.
These revisions were enough to push transportation equipment employment higher than its February, 2020 level for the first time (though by just 0.14 percent). As of last month’s jobs report, these industries’ workforces were still 0.52 percent below; and
>non-metallic mineral products, a smallish sector that made 3,200 net new hires in October, and enjoyed generally positive revisions. September’sinitially reported 1,500 loss was upgraded to one of just 200. August’s original 2,800 gain was revised up a second time – from 3,400 to 4,100. But July’s initially reported 1,000 increase remained at a downwardly revised 700 improvement after being upgraded to 1,100.
October’s biggest manufacturing jobs losers among the broadest sub-sectors tracked by the U.S. Labor Department were:
>wood products, where employment slipped by 900, and revisions were generally negative. September’s initially reported gain of 2,200 – this sector’s best since May’s 3,600 – is now judged to be no gain. August’s initially reported loss of 100, first revised down to one of 600, it now estimated as a fall-off of 2,200 – the worst performance since the 30,200 nosedive in April, 2020, when the pandemic-driven downturn was at its worst. At least July’s initially reported rise of 200 has been upgraded to one of 700 and finally to 1,300.
These setbacks drove wood products jobs levels down from 6.76 percent higher than in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, to 5.60 percent greater since then;
>textile mills, whose jobs decline of 700 was its weakest such perfomance since the same decline in January. Revisions were slightly positive. September’s initially 500-jobs reduction is now estimated as a gain of 300. August’s initially reported loss of 400 jobs has now been gone unrevised twice, and July’s initially reported decrease of 600 has now gone unrevised three straight times.
Textile mill employment has now shrunk by 6.94 percent since February, 2020, versus the 7.03 percent retreat calculable last month; and .
>textile product mills, which saw an employment dip of 600. Revisions were slight and mixed. September’s initially reported payroll loss of 700 stayed unrevised. August’s initially reported employee decrease of 1,000 was first upgraded to one of 800 but then revised back down to 900 (the worst since an identical contraction in September, 2021). And July’s results, first upgraded to no change and then revised down to a decrease of 100 are now judged as a flat-line.
Still, whereas last month, textile product mill payrolls were down by 6.59 percent versus their numbers just before the pandemic struck, the gap has now widened to 7.22 percent.
Two industries followed closely by RealityChek throughout the CCP Virus period registered good employment gains in October.
The automotive sector saw jobs growth of 4,800 – and that was its worst performance since it shed 14,000 positions in February. As with the broader transportation equipment sector in which it’s placed, revisions were dramatic and generally positive. September’s initially reported increase of 8,300 was revised down to 7,400. But after having been upgraded from a drop of 1,900 to a rise of 4,000, August’s results were then revised all the way up to 12,100 – the best gain since March’s 18,400 surge. And July’s initially reported decrease of 2,200 has been upgraded to an increase first of 3,600 and then to its final figure of 8,400.
These gyrations brought automotive employment 3.54 percent above its February, 2020 levels, as opposed to the 2.33 percent calculable last month.
Machinery, a manufacturing and economy bellwether because its products are so widely used, generated good jobs news in October, too, with net hiring hitting 3,000 – the best such performance since April’s 5,800 increase. September’s initially reported decline of 1,700 (the worst since last November’s 7,000) was upgraded to one of just 300. August’s gains were upgraded to 2,800 after having been revised down from that level to 2,200. But July’s initially reported increase of 3,400 stayed at the 2,800 level estimated after being downwardly revised to 3,300.
Machinery employment has now closed to within 0.90 percent of its level in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 1.40 percent shortfall calculable last month.
As known by RealityChek regulars, data for several other industries of special interest since the CCP Virus arrived in force are always a month behind the figures for these broader categories. Unfortunately, their September results varied considerably.
The semiconductor industry, whose shortages have bedeviled numerous other manufacturing sectors (especially vehicle and parts makers), grew headcount by 800 – which seems OK until you realize that this increase was its smallest since March’s 400. Revisions were mixed, with August’s initially reported 1,200 increase upgraded to 1,500; and July’s initially reported 2,300 advance was downgraded to 2,200 (still the best such result since the payrolls jumped by 3,000 in June, 2020, during the first pandemic wave recovery) and then unchanged.
Employment in the sector is now up 5.74 percent since just before the virus’ arrival in force, versus the 5.15 percent calculable last month. But as with the broader computer and electronics products category in which it’s placed, it needs to be remembered that semiconductor makers cut almost no jobs during the height of the pandemic.
Aircraft manufacturers added 1,300 jobs on month in September, and revisions were positive. August’s initially reported 1,300 increase was upgraded to 1,700, and July’s initially reported 2,400 gain remained at an upwardly revised 2,500 – their best such results since June, 2021’s 4,400.
U.S. aircraft manufacturing has been harmed not only by the pandemic-era travel restrictions, but by Boeing’ssafety woes. But the recent increases have pulled employment by these companies to within 7.41 percent of their immediate pre-CCP Virus levels, versus the 8.11 percent calculable last month.
This progress, however, didn’t extend to the rest of the aerospace indsustry. Aircraft engines- and engine parts-makers reduced payrolls by 100 in September – the first decrease since July, 2021’s 200. But the August and July results of job growth of 800 each were left unrevised. (The initial July estimate was 900.)
Payrolls in this sector are now 8.83 percent lower than in February, 2020, versus the 8.62 percent calculable last month.
Non-engine aircraft parts- and equipment-makers lowered their headcounts by an even greater 500, and evisions were mixed. August’s initially reported net new hiring of 1,100 was upgraded to 1,300 (the best such result since January’s 1,400). But July’s initially reported loss of 600 jobs stayed at a downgraded one of 800 (the worst such performance since December’s 900).
Consequently, these companies’ payrolls have now shrunk by 14.36 percent since the pandemic first struck, versus the 14.10 percent calculable last month.
Employment also dipped in the surgical appliances and supplies category, which supplies so many of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other medical products used to fight the pandemic. But even though the industry cut 200 jobs in September (the first monthly loss since June’s 800), revisions were positive. August’s initially reported gain of 700 was revised up to one of 900 (the best since March’s 1,000), and July’s results, first pegged at a 700 gain, remained at an upwardly revised increase of 800.
Surgical appliances and supplies employment is now up by 5.11 percent since February, 2020, versus the 4.11 percent calculable last month.
Results were mixed as well in pharmaceuticals and medicines. Companies in that category boosted payrolls by 1,000 in September, but revisions were significantly negative. August’s initially reported job growth of 1,700 was downgraded to an increase of 300, and July’s results, first estimated as a gain of 500 positions, remained as a downwardly revised loss of 1,000 – the worst such result since an identical reduction in March, 2019 – before the pandemic.
Employment in this industry is still much higher than just before the pandemic’s arrival, but by 11.58 percent versus the 11.71 percent calculable last month.
And in the medicines subsector containing vaccines, those companies expanded headcounts by 200 in September, but revisions were mixed, too. August’s initially reported 900 jobs increase is now estimated as a loss of 600 (the biggest drop since the 1,100 positions eliminated in December, 2018), but July’s initially reported cut of 200 remained at an upwardly revised decrease of 100.
Up 26.90 percent from February, 2020 levels as of last month, payrolls in this subsector are now 25.58 percent higher.
The short-term employment outlook for U.S.-based manufacturing looks unusually uncertain even by the unusually high standards of an American economy that’s still greatly distorted by the pandemic and pandemic responses. Reasons for optimism? They include the vast amount of money American households and businesses still have to spend, which should keep propping up domestic demand for American manufactures, the lag between the time when Federal Reserve inflation-fighting tightening began and the time when it starts meaningfully slowing economic activity, and the continued easing of supply chain snags. And the new legislation to revive U.S. semiconductor manufacturing should start generating more hiring in that sector and its suppliers before too long.
At the same time, pessimists can point to developments like a widely forecast global slowdown bound to reduce foreign demand for U.S. domestic manufactures; manufacturing giant China’s insistence on keeping its Zero Covid policy, which has seriously disrupted both the economy of the People’s Republic and worldwide transportation networks; and continued high inflation (including for the energy used by U.S.-based industry) that presumably will start giving American spenders pause at some point. (The interest rate-sensitive housing sector, a big user of manufactured products, is already reeling from Fed tightening.)
So just like the Fed, RealityChek will stay data dependent as it monitors and especially prognosticates on domestic manufacturing’s future.