For now, the term “Goldilocks” seems to be an increasingly popular and accurate way to describe the U.S. economy. (See, e.g., here.) As in the Three Bears-y it’s not running too hot (and therefore unlikely to prompt the Federal Reserve to step up its inflation-fighting efforts enough to trigger a recession). And it’s not running too cold (and prompting the Fed to accept current inflation levels for fear of sparking a really deep slump).
So it wasn’t entirely surprising that yesterday’s official U.S. manufacturing jobs figures were pretty Goldilocks-y themselves.
They showed that domestic industry boosted its payrolls on month in August by 22,000 – the smallest amount since May’s 19,000, but still representing growth. Further, the revisions of the solid June and July gains were modestly positive. The former received its second downgrade – from an initially reported 29,000 to 27,000 to 25,000. But the latter was upgraded from 30,000 to 36,000.
As a result, manufacturing employment is now 0.52 percent greater than in February, 2020 – the last full month before the CCP Virus pandemic struck the United States in full force and, along with lockdowns and voluntary behavioral curbs, generated a brief but historic depression. As of last month’s jobs report, manufacturing employment had grown by 0.32 percent during this period.
That’s a slower employment recovery than that staged by the overall private sector (0.68 percent). But U.S.-based industry shed fewer jobs proportionately than the rest of the private economy during that pandemic nosedive.
Moreover, because government employment is still down 2.82 percent since the virus arrived, manufacturing’s job creation has been way ahead of the performance of the non-farm sector (the federal government’s definition of the American jobs universe). That measure’s headcounts have advanced only 0.16 percent.
These results have left manufacturing at the same 9.85 percent of total private sector jobs as last month (and up from its 9.83 percent share in February, 2020), and at the same 8.41 percent share of all non-farm jobs as last month (and up from its 8.38 percent share just before the pandemic economy began).
Another indicator of manufacturing’s relatively strong recent jobs performance – at 12.852 million, its workers’ ranks are at their highest level since November, 2008’s 13.034 million. Last month’s initially reported 12.826 million manufacturing workers were the highest figure only since August, 2019’s 12.827 million.
August’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners among the broadest sub-sectors tracked by the U.S. Labor Department were:
>fabricated metals products, which added 4,700 workers on net last month. And this big sector has been on a hot streak lately. July’s results were revised up from a gain of 4,200 to one of 4,600, June’s unrevised 600 job loss is now judged to be an increase of 200, and May’s robust figures have only been revised down from 7,100 to 6,600.
These companies’ payrolls have now advanced to within 1.64 percent of their immediately pre-pandemic level, versus the 2.04 percent deficit calculable last month;
>computer and electronics products, which contains shortage-plagued semiconductor sector, added 4,500 employees sequentially in August, and revisions were strong. July’s initially reported 3,400 gain is now estimated at 3,900. June’s results rebounded from a downgrade of 2,300 to 2,000 to an upgrade to 2,900. And May’s final (for now) upwardly revised 5,300 increase stayed unchanged.
This sector now employs just 0.96 percent more workers than in February, 2020, versus the 0.41 percent rise calculable last month. But it’s important to recall that computer and electronics firms’ headcounts fell only minimally during the first sharp pandemic downturn;
>the very big chemicals industry, which boosted hiring by 3,500 on month in August. Revisions were somewhat negative but still left good growth in their wake. July’s initially reported improvement of 3,700 was downgraded to 2,900. June’s initial huge upgrade from 1,200 to 4,500 fell back to an increase of 3,900 and May remained at 5,100.
Since February, 2020, chemicals companies have increased employment by 6.09 percent, versus the 5.84 percent calculable last month;
>machinery, which is such a manufacturing- and economy-wide bellwether because its products are used by so many industries. Its firms’ payrolls climbed by 2,800 sequentially in August. Revisions, moreover, were encouraging. July’s initially reported 3,400 improvement was revised down slightly to 3,300. But June’s totals have now been upgraded from 1,000 to 1,600 and now to 2,400. And May’s initially reported monthly drop of 3,200 is now pegged at one of just 800.
Machinery employment is now off by just 1.15 percent since immediate pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 1.47 percent calculable last month; and
>non-metallic mineral products, whose monthly jobs advance of 2,800 in August was its best such performance since February’s 3,100. July’s initially reported gain of 1,000 was revised up to 1,100. June’s initially reported 400 loss has stayed at an upgraded 700 gain. And May’s totals have settled at an increase of 2,100 as opposed to the 1,900 first reported.
Thanks to its strong August and positive revisions, the non-metallic minerals workforce is now a mere 1.05 percent smaller than in February, 2020, vs the 1.85 percent calculable last month
Manufacturing’s biggest August jobs losers among this same group of broad categoies were:
>food manufacturing, whose August monthly 2,400 jobs decline was its worst such performance since last August’s 2,600. In addition, revisions were negative overall. July’s initially reported 1,800 jobs advance was downgraded to 1,600. June’s initially reported jump of 4,800 has been revised down a second time – to 3,400. And after an upgrade from an increase of 6,100 to one of 7,600, May’s result is now pegged at a 7,000 gain.
Whereas food manufacturing’s employment was calculable as having grown since February, 2020 by 2.86 percent as of last month, now the figure is 2.64 percent; and
>textile product mills, whose payrolls fell by 1,000 in August for their worst such performance since July, 2020’s 2,500 decline. Revisions in this small industry were negligible. July’s initially reported dip of 300 is now judged to be a gain of 100. June’s initially reported decrease of 700 stayed unchanged after being revised up to one of 600, and May’s initially reported 100 monthly job loss has stayed unrevised.
Textile product mill employment has now shrunk by 6.44 percent since February, 2020, versus the 5.51 percent calculable last month.
As always, the most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, and their July performances were generally in line with that month’s continued overall manufacturing hiring.
The recent employment upswing in that shortage-plagued semiconductor industry continued in July, as the month’s payroll increase of 2,300 was the best such performance since June, 2020’s 3,000. Revisions were positive, too, with June’s initially reported advance of 1,700 now estimated at 1,900 and May’s total staying at a slightly upgraded 1,000..
Semiconductor employment is now 4.56 percent higher than in February, 2020, on the eve of the CCP Virus-era economy, versus the 3.22 percent calculable last month. And it should be kept in mind that semiconductor companies kept hiring modestly on net during the worst of the pandemic.
The workforces of these companies are now 4.36 percent larger than in February, 2020, versus the 3.69 percent calculable last month.
Most of the aerospace cluster in July kept regaining the unusually large numbers of jobs lost during the pandemic period due largely to the steep CCP Virus-related travel downturn.
Aircraft production companies hired another 2,400 workers that month – their best such performance since June, 2021’s 4,400. June’s initially reported 1,500 employment increase was downgraded to 1,200, but May’s net new job creation remained at an upgraded 1,600.
In all, aircraft manufacturing payrolls advanced to within 8.69 percent of their immediate pre-pandemic levels, versus the 9.64 percent shortfall calculable last month.
In aircraft engines and engine parts, firms added 900 employees on net in July, and although June’s initially reported 800 increase was revised down to 700, May’s results remained at a 900 improvement after being upgraded fom 700.
Aircraft engines and engine parts-makers now employ just 8.94 percent fewer workers than in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 9.81 percent deficit calculable last month.
Non-engine aircraft parts and equipment makers stayed jobs laggards, though, as they shed 600 workers in July – their worst such performance since last December’s 900 loss. June’s initially reported jobs gain of 600 was upgraded to a 900 increase, and May’s initially reported growth of 300 remained unrevised for a second straight month. But payrolls in this industry are now 14.88 percent below their February, 2020 levels, versus the 14.62 percent calculable last month.
Most healthcare manufacturing, however, experienced an off month hiring-wise in July.
In surgical appliances and supplies (which includes all the personal protective equipment and other medical goods so widely used to fight the CCP Virus), 700 net new jobs were created in July. June’s 800 net job loss stayed unrevised July, as did May’s slightly upgraded monthly increase of 500.
Since February, 2020, this sector’s headcount is up by 4.36 percent, versus the 3.69 percent calculable last month.
Yet the large pharmaceuticals and medicines industry lost 500 jobs in July – although this dip followed a downwardly revised 4,000 employment surge in June that was still the best monthly result for the sector going back to the 1990 start of this data series. Moreover, May’s upwardly revised employment increase of 1,200 remained the same.
Still, whereas employment in this sector was up by 11.58 percent since the pandemic’s economy-shaking arrival as of last month’s jobs report, that increase had slipped to 11.32 percent as of this month’s release.
And the medicines subsector containing vaccines lost 200 jobs in July, and revisions were slightly negative. June’s initially reported 1,100 increase was downgraded to one of 900, and May’s slightly upgraded 700 monthly gain stayed unchanged.
Vaccine manufacturing employment has still climbed by 25.89 during the CCPVirus period. But as of last month, this figure was 26.29 percent.
For the foreseeable future, industry’s employment prospects seem likely to be buffeted by the same crosswinds it’s been dealing with for many months now – on the one hand, ongoing (but possibly fading) supply chain issues, high (but possibly fading) inflation, and a Federal Reserve evidently bent on cooling price increases even if it slows economic growth considerably; on the other hand, demand for manufactures by consumers and businesses that keeps displaying impressive strength.
And let’s not forget a U.S. dollar that’s the strongest in decades, and that should be undermining domestic manufacturing because it still relies so heavily on exports, and the greenback’s rise damages the price competitiveness of everything made in America.
Yet U.S.-based manufacturers keep hiring – usually a sign of confidence – and I’ll keep assuming that since it’s their fortunes that are most directly on the line, I’ll view their prospects as pretty bright, and even Goldilocks-y, too.