The Ukraine war looks like the latest disastrous development that’s failed to stop the impressive growth in U.S. domestic manufacturing employment – just as has been the case recently with the Omicron variant of the CCP Virus and surging inflation. And let’s not forget that the Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates and signaled that steeper hikes are on the way – steps of course designed to cool off the economy, including the demand for manufactured goods.
U.S.-based industry added a strong 38,000 net new jobs on month in March, according to this morning’s monthly employment report from the Labor Department, and revisions were positive. February’s initially reported 36,000 sequential improvement was upgraded to 38,000, and January’s already upwardly revised 16,000 advance is now judged to have been 26,000.
In fact, domestic industry slightly outperformed the rest of the non-farm economy (the Labor Department’s definition of the U.S. jobs universe) job-wise in March, with its share of non-farm employment inching up from 8.38 percent to 8.39 percent. These results, moreover, show that manufacturing jobs have grown a bit faster than the overall economy’s throughout the pandemic period. In February, 2020, the last data month before the virus and related lockdowns and behavioral curbs began roiling and distorting the economy, manufacturing accounted for 8.38 percent of total non-farm jobs.
The comparison with the private sector isn’t quite as impressive, but satisfactory all the same. Manufacturing’s share of those jobs as of March was 9.83 percent – exactly the same as it was in February, 2020. And some context is essential here: U.S. manufacturing payrolls have held their own and then some even though the massive, sweeping Trump tariffs on imports from China – which were supposed to cripple domestic industry – are still almost entirely in place, as are many of the former president’s tariffs and other trade curbs on metals.
From another vantage point, manufacturing has now replaced 1.244 million (90.60 percent) of the 1.362 million jobs it shed in March and April, 2020 – the peak of the CCP Virus’ first wave.
That trails the 92.82 percent of non-farm workers and 95.46 percent of private sector workers hired back during this period. But the gap isn’t big at all, and manufacturers shrunk their headcounts proportionately less than the rest of the economy during that horrendous spring of 2020. So they didn’t have as much ground to make up.
February’s biggest manufacturing jobs winners among the major sectors tracked by the Labor Department were:
>transport equipment, where payrolls in March advances by 10,800 – their best such performance since last August’s 19,000. At the same time, this increase followed a 19,800 February jobs plunge that was the sector’s worst such performance since the automotive sub-sector’s semiconductor shortage woes led to a nosedive of 48,100 in April, 2021. All this volatility left this sector’s employment levels 4.05 percent below those in that final pre-pandemic data month of Februay, 2020 – versus the one percent decrease since then by manufacturing overall;
>chemicals, whose 7,200 monthly jobs jump was its best ever (or at least since figures began being tracked in 1990). The previous all-time high was the 6,600 gain of January, 2021. This huge industry’s headcount is now up 4.49 percent since February, 2020;
>electrical equipment and appliances, where employment rose sequentially by 3,800 for its strongest increase since March, 2021’s 4,200. Jobs-wise, these industries are now 2.82 percent larger than in Febuary, 2020;
>and automotive. This industry, a sub-sector of transportation equipment, boosted employment by 6,400 in March, the most in a month since last October’s 34,200 burst. But underscoring the volatility among vehicle and parts makers, This March increase followed a 16,000 drop-off in February that was the biggest decrease since the 49,100 jobs lost in April, 2021. These ups and downs still have left automotive employment 1.32 percent their February, 2020 levels.
Machinery’s 1,700 monthly jobs gain in March wasn’t exceptional by the above standards. But RealityChek regulars know it’s of special importance because its products are so widely used throughout manufacturing and the rest of the economy. And in a somewhat discouraging development, this sector’s initially reported 8,300 jobs growth was revised down to 6,600. And its payrolls are still 2.89 percent smaller than in February, 2020.
The only significant jobs loser in March was non-metallic mineral products, where employment sank by 4,500 on month. That was the sector’s worst such perforance since last May’s 5,300 decline, but the March downturn snapped a string of good gains for these companies, and their workforces are 2.81 percent above their February, 2020 levels.
As always, the most detailed employment data for pandemic-related industries are one month behind those in the broader categories, and as with the rest of domestic industry for February, their employment picture showed improvement overall.
In that shortages-plagued semiconductor and related devices sector, employment dipped by 100 on month, but January’s initially reported 200 increase was revised up to 300– its best such performance since October’s 1,000 advance. Since February, 2020, its headcount has climbed by only 0.86 percent, but these companies actually added jobs during the very steep CCP Virus-induced recession of spring, 2020.
Surgical appliances and supplies makers – whose products include personal protective equipment and similar medical goods – boosted employment by 800 in February. January’s initially reported 1,700 jobs increase was downgraded to 1,300, and December’s results were unrevised at 1,100. These health security-related companies have expanded their workforces by 3.79 percent since February, 2020.
The employment news was particularly good in the very big pharmaceuticals and medicines industry. Its February monthly employment increase of 1,300 was the best since September’s 1,600, and January’s initially reported dip of 100 now stands as an increase of 1,100. December’s downwardly revised 900 jobs gain remained the same, and these companies have now increased their employee numbers by 9.04 percent since February, 2020.
The medicines subsector containing vaccines didn’t perform nearly as robustly in February, but still grew jobs by 800. January’s initially reported 500 employment increase and December’s downwardly revised 2,000 expansion remained the same. The vaccine industry workforce is now 23.05 percent larger than in February, 2020.
The aviation cluster enjoyed a good hiring month in February, too. Jobs in the aircaft industry, dominated by Boeing and companies in its supply chain, rose by 500 – the best since the identical total in November. January’s initially reported downturn of 800 and December’s decrease of 400 remained unrevised. Aircraft employment is still off by 11.57 percent since February, 2020.
Makers of aircraft engines and engine parts expanded their workforces by 900 during February, and although January’s initially reported hiring figures were downgraded, the estimate went only from 1,000 to 900. December’s upwardly revised employment increase of 700 was unrevised, all of which helped these companies bring their payrolls to within 13.20 percent of their February, 2020 levels.
Jobs prospects in the deeply depressed non-engine aircraft parts and equipment sector keep looking up, too. Employment improved by 200 in February, and January’s initially reported job growth of 500 was revised all the way up to 1,500. December’s jobs losses stayed at 900, and although these industries’ headcounts are still 16.35 percent below February, 2020’s, that’s better than the 17.30 percent shortfall calculable last month.
Continuing headwinds are still imaginable for domestic manufacturing – like a dramatic escalation of the fighting in Ukraine (which could greatly heat up inflationary pressures and foster even greater Federal Reserve efforts to slow economic growth); a new CCP Virus variant that’s not only more infectious but more deadly; and more big China lockdowns that could further screw up global supply chains. But given the recent actual record, it’s even easier to imagine manufacturing employment continuing to improve.