Although the disappointing official September U.S. jobs figures released this morning might have been depressed significantly by “strange [CCP Virus-related] statistical quirks around school reopening,” it’s still noteworthy that manufacturing employment rose nicely during the month – by 26,000 workers. These results are all the more impressive given all the supply chain and semiconductor shortage headwinds faced by domestic industry, especially in the automotive sector.
Moreover, revisions of the strong July and August payroll figures for U.S.-based manufacturers were only slightly negative, with the former’s upgraded 52,000 sequential gain now judged to be 57,000, and August’s initially reported 37,000 improvement downgraded to 31,000.
As a result, in September, domestic industry closed still more of the gap that had opened up in its hiring performance versus that of the total American non-farm sector (the government’s definition of the U.S. employment universe, which includes government jobs), although it lost some additional ground against the private sector.
According to this latest jobs report, manufacturing had regained 74.51 percent of the 1.385 million jobs it lost during the steep pandemic-related recession of March and April, 2020 – up from the 72.71 percent reported in the August jobs release. That’s a faster rate of improvement than for the non-farm sector (whose payroll recovery grew from 76.60 percent of jobs lost during that early spring of 2020 to 77.77 percent) but slower than that of the private sector (which has now seen an 80.71 percent employment recovery from the spring, 2020 lows – up from 78.72 percent).
It’s certainly plausible that the non-farm jobs recovery has been most recently held back by those school reopening problems, and therefore manufacturing’s laggard status will resume once they’re cleared up. At the same time, the relatively slow industry employment rebound is also explained by its superior jobs performance during the CCP Virus recession. Specifically, its payroll levels fell then by 10.82 percent, versus 16.46 percent for private employers and 17.18 percent for the non-farm sector.
And indeed, since February, 2020 (the last full data month before the pandemic and related lockdowns and behavior changes began seriously distorting the economy), manufacturing’s share of non-farm jobs has risen from 8.39 percent to 8.43 percent. In addition, it’s increased as a share of private sector jobs fromThe 9.87 percent to 9.91 percent.
Among the manufacturing sector categories broken out in the official monthly U.S. jobs reports, the biggest September employment winners were fabricated metals products (up 8,200 on month – its best performance since March’s 10,100 jump); machinery (a 6,300 sequential advance); printing and related support activities (4,200 – its best since March’s 5,300); and food products (up 3,500).
Strong machinery hiring is always particularly encouraging, as the sector’s products are used so widely in the rest of manufacturing, as well as in big non-manufacturing industries like construction and agriculture. Almost as important, whereas its August monthly job creation was previously reported as having flatlined, now its estimated to have climbed by 2,600. And fabricated metals products good recent jobs increases are noteworthy given the continuing U.S. tariffs on the steel and aluminum on which they rely so heavily – which supposedly are decimating metals-using industries.
The aforementioned U.S. vehicles and parts-makers were by far the biggest monthly jobs losers recorded in the September release, shedding 6,300 positions on month. That sequential drop was their worst since semiconductor shortage-induced layoffs plunged their employment levels down by 41,600 in April. No other major manufacturing category mentioned in the September jobs report lost more than 800 jobs.
The most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries is one month behind those in the broader categories, but their job creation performance remained mixed in August.
In surgical appliances and supplies (the sector containing PPE – personal protective equipment – and similar goods), payrolls fell by 2,500 – their worst monthly performance since the previous August’s identical number. July’s 500 sequential jobs gain was upgraded to 900 and June’s 500 improvement remained the same, but jobs in these industries are now just 7.03 percent more numerous than in pre-pandemic February, 2020. As of last month’s jobs report, the figure was 9.22 percent.
The overall pharmaceuticals and medicines industry saw hiring dip by 400 in August – its worst monthly result since May’s 300 decrease. July’s job gains were revised up from 400 to 500, but June’s losses remained at a downgraded 2,300.
These sectors’ payrolls, therefore, have now risen by only 4.62 percent since February, 2020 – not the 4.72 percent published last month.
The pharmaceuticals subsector containing.vaccines fared better. Employment rose by 400 sequentially in August, July’s flatline was upgraded to an increase of 200, and June’s 1,000 jobs improvement remained unrevised. Whereas as of last month, this sector’s payrolls had grown by 10.21 percent since just before the pandemic hit, that figure is now 10.82 percent.
U.S. aircraft producer Boeing continues to suffer from manufacturing and quality problems, but jetliner employment inched up on month in August anyway – by 200. But July’s 1,500 sequential jobs decline was revised down to 1,600, while June’s upwardly revised 4,700 jump remained the same. All told, aircraft employment is now down by 8.04 percent since February, 2020 – a bit better than the 8.08 percent shortfall reported in last month’s jobs report.
The story was similar in aircraft engines and engine parts. These industries added 600 workers seqentially in August, and July’s previously reported payroll increase of 200 is now estimated at 300. June’s downgraded 400 jobs gain was unrevised, and so employment in these sectors is now off by 14.04 percent since February, 2020 – some progress over the 14.80 percent reported last month.
Non-engine aircraft parts and equipment are still stuck even deeper in the doldrums. August’s 500 jobs loss drove its payrolls down to 16.60 percent lower than in February, 2020, versus the 16.17 percent drop reported as of last month.
With manufacturing employment still powering ahead even with its supply chain issues (which reportedly don’t seem likely to end till sometime next year), and with the CCP Virus threat still hanging over the economy, betting against more of the same going forward seems foolish. And interestingly, industry’s jobs prospects look bright despite signs that its mammoth trade deficit is heading back up, at least in absolute terms. (We don’t yet have recent enough figures to know whether it’s rising in relation to manufacturing output, which is the much more important measure.)
As they say in the investment world, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But domestic manufacturing’s recent employment performance has overcome so many obstacles over the past year-plus that it might be the best basis we have right now for prediction.