For observers of U.S. domestic manufacturing, this morning’s new jobs report (for November) could not have made clearer how the recent strike at General Motors (GM) have bollixed up the recent monthly totals for reasons having nothing to do with the underlying state of the economy or with President Trump’s trade wars. Nonetheless, even with the strike’s effects filtered out, industry’s job creation this year continues to lag behind last year’s strong pace, and damage from Mr. Trump’s metals tariffs in particular is still apparent – if anything but calamitous.
Moreover, in a continuing mystery, although Boeing’s safety woes are kneecapping domestic manufacturing’s trade performance, their impact on manufacturing employment is still nowhere to be seen.
Because of the GM strike’s impact, the overall manufacturing job figures for November (along with the revised October numbers) are pretty worthless. What does matter are the results with motor vehicles and parts stripped out (although even taking this step fails to account for the strike’s effects on all the industries making up the domestic automotive supply chain).
Ex-automotive, the previously reported October U.S. manufacturing monthly jobs change would have come to a 5,600 net monthly gain, rather than a 36,000 net loss. The revised October manufacturing jobs change reported today was somewhat better – without the GM strike, a net sequential employment loss pegged at a higher 43,000 would have been a net gain of 6,800. (And another revised October figure will come out next month, along with a new November number.)
For its first read on November’s performance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that domestic industry’s payrolls rose by 54,000 on net. Removing from that total the 41,300 jump in automotive employment stemming from the return to work of GM workers and of employees at parts companies who may have been laid off, and you get a 12,700 monthly increase in manufacturing jobs.
Encouragingly, that’s the best such performance since January’s 17,000 payroll advance. But the year-on-year improvements remain humdrum even taking out the automotive distortions.
For example, without the automotive distortions, October’s stand-still manufacturing jobs total would only have been 56,000 higher than that of October, 2018. Between the previous Octobers, manufacturing employment surged by 275,000. The comparable November numbers? A 32,000 improvement between 2018 and 2019, as opposed to 228.000 between 2017 and 2018.
The November jobs report’s news for so-called trade hawks wasn’t good, either. As usual the impact of the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs are relatively easy to gauge, and it remains the case that the metals-using sectors’ employment performance has lost notable momentum versus the rest of manufacturing and the rest of the private sector overall.
Below are the latest figures for employment changes at major metals-using industries starting with the April, 2018 – the first full month in which these levies were in effect, and run through October. For comparison’s sake, the results for manufacturing overall are also included, along with those of the durable goods super-sector in which most of the big metals-users are grouped:
Old thru Oct New thru Thru Nov
entire private sector: +2.58 percent +2.62 percent +2.82 percent
overall manufacturing: +1.40 percent +1.40 percent +1.83 percent
durable goods: +1.48 percent +1.43 percent +1.99 percent
fabricated metals products: +1.57 percent +1.49 percent +1.51 percent
non-electrical machinery: +1.74 percent +1.65 percent +1.26 percent
automotive vehicles & parts: -4.89 percent -4.60 percent -0.45 percent
household appliances*: not available -6.31 percent not available
aerospace products & parts*: not available +8.98 percent not available
*data are one month behind
The end of the GM effect is clear from the big differences between the October and November overall manufacturing and durable goods jobs changes. But by the same token, November was a lousy employment month for the big machinery and fabricated metals sectors. Look at that aerospace products and parts increase, though – job creation in this Boeing-heavy sector continues to excel.
Now it’s possible that much of the damage being done to the company, and manufacturing more generally, is being done in its own vast domestic supply chain. But the employment numbers for narrower sectors like aircraft and their parts show nothing of the kind, and the effects on companies in other supplier sectors (e.g., machinery, metals, and fabricated metals products) simply can’t be teased out.
But even worse for the metals-using industries generally, whereas most were job creation leaders last year, they’ve turned into job creation laggards this year. This deterioration is made clear from comparing the previous table with the following table, which shows their employment performance from the metals tariffs advent through the end of last year and the beginning of this year:
Thru December Thru January
entire private sector: +1.36 percent +1.60 percent
overall manufacturing: +1.39 percent +1.49 percent
durable goods: +1.72 percent +1.97 percent
fabricated metals products: +1.57 percent +1.78 percent
non-electrical machinery: +2.33 percent +2.57 percent
automotive vehicles & parts: +1.07 percent +1.15 percent
household appliances: -2.05 percent -2.52 percent
aerospace products & parts: +5.47 percent +5.87 percent
Of course, President Trump’s tariffs on several hundred billion dollars worth of imports heading America’s way from China are affecting domestic manufacturing as well. But because of these products ubiquity throughout domestic industry, the greatly varying levels of their U.S. market share, and the duties’ on-again-off-again nature (prominently on display in recent days), I continue to despair of quantifying the impact usefully.
And speaking of Mr. Trump, there’s no doubt that, contrary to his confidence, trade wars are not “easy to win” – and can be highly disruptive even for countries like the United States with ample leverage to prevail. That’s inevitable when you’re trying to reverse several decades of policy. All the same, U.S. domestic manufacturing’s employment performance, even in leading victim industries, has held up pretty well since the President began responding to foreign predation in earnest. Whether the manufacturing interests he’s counting on to win reelection will agree is another question entirely.