April 1, 2022

The Department of Labor reported that manufacturing employment is now just 1% shy of its pre-COVID levels.

Ryan Secard

A pair of key reports for manufacturers show that manufacturing job growth is accelerating. The monthly jobs report for March, released April 1 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed that manufacturing hired approximately 38,000 new workers last month, including 11,000 in transportation equipment.

Elsewhere, the Institute for Supply Management showed that manufacturing growth continued in March, albeit at a slower rate than previously. The Institute’s manufacturing PMI fell 1.5 points to 57.1% as two primary indicators—new orders and production indexes—fell but were buttressed by a third, the rising employment index.

Jobs Report

The Department of Labor’s employment situation report showed substantial gains in employment in the private economy, which added 431,000 jobs in March, as well as in manufacturing, which added 38,000. Roughly 8% of new hires last month were in manufacturing, on par with how many jobs are manufacturing jobs.

In a statement, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the positive numbers—including a drop in the unemployment rate from 3.8% to 3.6%—showed a recovery in motion. “With 7.9 million jobs added since President Biden took office and unemployment close to pre-pandemic levels, this strong job growth continues our historic, worker-centered recovery,” he said.

The latest numbers bring manufacturing within striking distance of its pre-COVID employment levels. They put U.S. manufacturing employment at 12,657,000—128,000 people, or about 1%, lower than it was in February 2020.

Transportation equipment, the largest sector in manufacturing and durable-goods manufacturing, also added the most jobs in March. Jobs for building planes, trains, and automobiles grew by 10,800, of which 6,400 were in motor vehicles and parts production. Fabricated metal added 3,700 new employees. Those gains were offset by a loss in wood products production of 4,500 people and smaller losses in primary metals and electronics.

Nondurable goods added 16,000 new jobs last month. Chemicals grew by 7,200 employees, plastics and rubber companies hired 3,300, and the largest nondurable division, food manufacturing, hired 2,400.

ISM Report

The Institute for Supply Management’s latest report on manufacturing shows that manufacturing employment may be improving, but other conditions are not. The manufacturing PMI fell one and a half points to 57.1% in March, indicating continued growth in the manufacturing sector, but at its slowest rate since September 2020.

Two of the ISM’s measures for manufacturing health informed the PMI and somewhat mirrored it. The new orders and production indexes both fell substantially but held on to growth, both also for a twenty-second month. The new orders index fell just shy of eight points to 53.8%, while the production index dropped four points to 54.5%.

Employment, though, reflecting the gains shown in the jobs report, grew at a faster rate. The employment index rose 3.4 points to 56.3%, continuing a growth trend of seven months.

Trade was another area in which manufacturing growth slowed but persisted. The new export orders and imports indexes fell by 3.9 points to 53.2% and 3.6 points to 51.8%, respectively.

Comments from surveyed business leaders reiterated complaints from previous months: Despite strong demand and backlogs, getting one’s hands-on materials and supplies is still too difficult. As a primary metals executive put it, the “supply chain is still unstable. While we have seen improvements, there are still a lot of issues that have yet to be resolved.”

Others, including executives in electrical equipment, transportation equipment, and chemicals cited continued difficulties sourcing supplies.