Are Manufacturing Jobs Now Increasing?

By John S. McClenahen Is the long-awaited turnaround from firing to hiring among U.S. manufacturers finally underway? No, according to the headline employment data the U.S. Labor Department released on March 5. Overall, the manufacturing sector of the U.S. lost an additional 3,000 jobs in February. But that statistic may not tell the full story. "In fact, employment in a few durable goods industries, such as fabricated metals and wood products, is up slightly in recent months," Kathleen P. Utgoff, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Labor Department unit that compiles the employment numbers, told Congress' Joint Economic Committee last Friday. "It is significant that employment in fabricated metals, machinery, computers and electronics, and transportation equipment, where half the manufacturing job losses have occurred, all posted gains last month," says Jerry J. Jasinowski, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers. "This is a reliable indicator that the ongoing recoveries in business investment and exports -- which these industries depend on -- are now beginning to generate hiring." New York-based UBS Investment Research notes that February's manufacturing loss of "just" 3,000 jobs was the best performance since July 2000. "Job losses in [manufacturing] are slowly declining. Indeed, employment could actually be rising slightly after factoring in temps, many of whom work in manufacturing firms," says UBS. Labor Department data for the larger nonfarm economy, which includes services and construction in addition to manufacturing, show the U.S. adding 21,000 jobs in February, far below the 120,000 to 150,000 that several economists were predicting. "The unemployment rate did indeed stay at 5.6%, but if not for a 392,000 slide in the labor force, it would have jumped to 5.8% last month," states David A. Rosenberg, chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. The average period of unemployment increased to 20.3 weeks last month from 19.8 weeks in January, its highest mark since January 1984, he adds. "This remains a jobless recovery, pure and simple," judges Rosenberg.

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