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.
As of the September jobs data released on Friday, however, domestic industry has continued to hire – which is almost always a sign of optimism.
Manufacturers in the United States increased their payrolls by 22,000 on net last month, and revisions overall were positive. The August employment rise was upgraded from 22,000 to 29,000, July’s results were revised up a second time, to 37,000, and the June numbers, originally reported as a gain of 29,000, have been brought down only to 27,000 and finally (for now!) 25,000.
These advances pushed manufacturing headcounts 0.74 percent above their levels in February, 2020 – the last 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 0.52 percent.
Industry’s jobs comeback hasn’t been quite as strong as that staged by the overall private sector (where employment is up by 0.86 percent since February, 2020). But that’s partly because domestic manufacturing lost fewer jobs relatively speaking than the rest of the economy (still dominated by the pandemic-devastated service sector) during the CCP Virus-induced nosesdive.
In addition, with government employment at all levels still down 2.61 percent since February, 2020, manufacturing has added more jobs proportionately than the total U.S. non-farm payrolls sector (NFP – Washington’s definition of the American employment universe) – whose workforce is up by just 0.34 percent during this period.
September’s increase left manufacturing employment at the same share of private sector employment as calculable from August’s jobs report (9.85 percent), and up from its 9.83 percent share just before the pandemic struck in full force. But as a percentage of NFP, manufacturing jobs inched up from the 8.41 percent calculable last month to 8.42 percent – a nice improvement from its 8.38 percent share in February, 2020.
Domestic industry’s employment progress is also evident from historical comparisons. At 12.880 million, its workforce remains the biggest since November, 2008’s 13.034 million. Last month’s initially reported 12.852 million manufacturing workers were the highest figure only since July, 2019’s 12.832 million.
September’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners among the broadest sub-sectors tracked by the U.S. Labor Department were:
>transportation equipment, which added 8,400 workers on month. Revisions, moreover, were strongly positive. August’s initially reported 2,400 growth was upgraded all the way up to 10,500. July’s results have now been revised up from 2,200 to 12,600 to and now 13,600 (the best monthly figure since March’s 25,000 burst). And after having been downgraded from 7,200 to 4,300, June’s final jobs improvement stayed at an upgraded 5,700.
These increases mean that employment in this sector is now down just 0.52 percent since immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 1.52 percent gap that had remained as of last month;
>food manufacturing, whose hiring of 7,800 net new workers was its best monthly performance since February’s 11,100 rise. Revisions were generally positive, too. August’s initially reported 2,400 job loss is now pegged as a drop of just 1,000. After a downward revision from a 1,800 rise to one of 1,600, July’s increase is now pegged at 5,000. But June’s number was downgraded again – from an initially reported 4,800 increase to one of 3,500 to one of 2,400.
Consequently, employment in food manufacturing is now 3.40 percent higher than in February, 2020, versus the 2.64 percent increase calculable last month.
>fabricated metals products, which continued its hiring tear in September by boosting employment by 6,300 – its best such performance since May’s 6,600. Revisions were mized, though. August’s initially reported gain of 4,700 has been dialed back to 2,800, and after having been upgraded from a 4,200 increase to one of 4,600, July’s job creation is now pegged at 4,300. Along with June’s downwardly revised final result of a 200-job gain, these results brought the sector’s employment to within 1.36 percent of its immediate pre-CCP Virus levels, versus the 1.64 percent calculable last month; and
>chemicals, where the headcount climbed by 3,400 on month in September. Revisions, moreover, were positive, with August’s initially reported increase of 3,500 revised up to 3,900, July’s downgraded 2,900 gain revised back up to 4,100 (the best such result since May’s 5,100), and June’s increase staying at an upgraded 3,900.
This big sector has now expanded its employment since February, 2020 by 6.68 percent, versus the 6.09 percent calculable last month.
The biggest September manufacturing jobs losers among these broad categories were:
>printing and related support activities, which lost 4,000 jobs sequentially in September– its worst monthly performance since the 73,100 catastrophe of April, 2020, during the worst of the pandemic. And revisions overall were negative. August’s initially reported 1,100 payroll increase is now pegged at just 700. July’s initially reported 2,000 employment rise was downgraded a second time – to 400. June’s results, though, were upgraded a second time – from a initially reported 900 jobs decrease to an advance of 100.
But all told, this sector’s workforce has now fallen by 11.11 percent since just before the pandemic hit the U.S. economy in full force, versus the 9.78 percent calculable last month
>machinery, whose 1,700 employment reduction in September was its worst such performance since May’s 800 decline, and especially discourgaging since its products are so widely used throughout the economy. Worse, revisions were negative. August’s initially reported 2,800 jobs increase is now pegged at 2,200, July’s gains have been downgraded a second time – from 3,400 to 3,300 to 2,800. But at least June’s improvement remained at an upgraded 2,400.
Employment in this crucial industry is now off by 1.40 percent since February, 2020, versus 1.15 percent calculable last month;
>non-metallic mineral products, where the workforce sank by 1,500 in September for its worst monthly performance since May, 2021’s 5,300 drop. Revisions, however, were slightly positive. August’s initially reported hiring of 2,800 was revised up to 3,400 – the best monthly increase since last December’s identical total. July’s initially reported advance of 1,000 was revised down to one of 700 after having been upgraded to 1,100. But June’s initially reported employment dip of 400 is now juded to have been an increase of 700.
Yet employment in the non-metallic minerals sector dropped back to 1.47 percent below its February, 2020 levels, versus the 1.05 percent calculable last month; and
>plastics and rubber products, whose 1,400 September jobs decline was its worst such performance since payrolls sank by 4,400 in September, 2021. Revisions were negative, too. The initially reported August increase of 900 is now estimated to have been only 100. After being upgraded from a gain of 1,200 to one of 1,400, plastics and rubber employment is now judged to have retreated 400 in July. And June’s increase stayed at a sharply downgraded 2,400.
Whereas last month’s jobs report showed that employment in this sector had climbed by 4.23 percent during the pandemic era, that figure now stands at 3.65 percent.
Most sectors of special interest since the CCP Virus’ early 2020 arrival turned in good recent hiring numbers.
>The automotive sector, whose employment volatility has influenced many of manufacturing’s monthly employment performances during the pandemic period, boosted its payrolls by 8,300 in September, and overall revisions were exceptionally strong. August’s initially reported job loss of 1,900 is now recorded as a gain of 4,000. July’s results have been revised up from a 2,200 drop to a 3,600 rise to an advance of 8,400 (the best such results since March’s 18,400 jump). And June’s initially reported increase of 2,100 has been modestly downgraded to one of 1,700.
Jobs in vehicle- and parts-making is now 2.33 percent above its February, 2020 levels, versus the increase of 0.44 percent calculable last month.
As always, the most detailed employment data for other pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, but most turned in solid August performances, too.
The shortage-plagued semiconductor industry added 1,200 workers on month in August, and revisions were modestly mixed. July’s initially reported 2,300 increase (the best since June, 2020’s 3,000) was downgraded to 2,200, but June’s totals stayed at a slightly upgraded 1,900.
Semiconductor employment is now 5.15 percent higher than in February, 2020, versus the 4.36 percent calculable last month. But don’t forget: These increases have been held down to an extent by the baseline effect, since semiconductor companies kept hiring modestly on net during the worst of the pandemic.
Aircraft manufacturers hired 1,300 workers in August, and revisions were mixed. July’s initially reported employment increase of 2,400 (the best such performance since June, 2021’s 4,400) was revised up to 2,500, but June’s advance stayed at a downgraded 1,200.
As a result, aircraft manufacturing payrolls closed to within 8.11 percent of their February, 2020 totals, versus the 8.69 percent calculable last month.
Aircraft engines- and engine parts-makers hired 400 new workers in August but revisions were negative. July’s initially reported 900 increase is now estimated at 800, and June’s increase stayed at a downwardly revised 700.
Aircraft engines and engine parts-makers now employ just 8.62 percent fewer workers than in February, 2020, versus the 8.94 percent calculable last month.
The 1,100 August employment increase in non-engine aircraft parts and equipment represented its best monthly performance since January’s 1,400. But revisions here were mixed as well, with July’s initially reported 600 jobs decline now pegged at 800 (the worst such performance since last December’s decrease of 900), but June’s totals stayed at an upgraded 900.
These companies’ payrolls are now 14.10 percent lower than in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020 versus the 14.88 percent calculable last month.
The surgical appliances and supplies category has been in the national spotlight throughout the pandemic era, since it includes personal protective equipment and other anti-virus medical goods. Its August headcount increase totaled 700 and July’s upgrade from 700 new hires to 800 produced its best employment creation month since March’s 1,100. June’s job loss of 800 stayed unrevised, though.
These companies have now boosted their post-February, 2020 workforces by 4.11 percent, versus the 4.36 percent calculable last month.
The large pharmaceuticals and medicines raised employment by 1,700 in August, but revisions were mixed. July’s initially reported job decline of 500 is now judged to be 1,000, but June’s hiring spurt of 4,000 – the industry’s best since the 1990 start of the data series – stayed intact.
These employment ups and downs left job levels in this sector now 11.71 percent higher since February, 2020 versus the 11.32 percent calculable last month.
As for the medicines subsector containing vaccines, it boosted its employees by 900 in August. July’s initially reported 200 job loss was upgraded to one of 100, but June’s improvement stayed at a slightly downgraded 900.
This subsector’s workforce is now 26.90 percent larger than just before the pandemic struck in full force, versus the 25.89 percent calculable last month.
At this point, it’s difficult to imagine domestic industry continuing to overcome the headwinds mentioned in the lead paragraph – at least for much longer. But a few years ago, even keeping in mind the mammoth stimulus poured into the economy recently. it would have been difficult imagining U.S.based manufacturing overcoming a worldwide pandemic, an equally worldwide transport and logistics crisis, a major war in Europe, and raging inflation – not to mention a serious tigthening of credit conditions, aimed at taming that inflation, following decades of super-easy money.
The bottom line seems to be a sector that – like the economy as a whole – is standing on a knife edge, but whose record of resilience lately shouldn’t be forgotten too quickly.