By John S. McClenahen Just what is going on with the U.S. economy? Manufacturing executives and economists alike can be excused for being perplexed -- even confused -- by the most recent data out of the federal government. One day after the Institute for Supply Management reported that U.S. manufacturing growth essentially stalled in August -- and new orders actually declined -- comes the U.S. Commerce Department saying that new orders for manufactured goods rose 4.7% to $327.6 billion, the largest single-month increase since October 2001. The catch is that Commerce's data are for July and don't include semiconductors. What's more, people wanting to compare Commerce's and ISM's data will have to cool their calculators for nearly a month. The Commerce Department's order data for August aren't slated to be published until Oct. 3. Meanwhile, despite a preliminary estimate showing that initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped 8,000 during the week ending Aug. 31, data from the U.S. Labor Department's Employment & Training Administration are not all that encouraging. Both the number of claims for the final week of August -- 403,000 -- and the revised figure for the previous week -- 411,000 -- are above 400,000. That suggests the U.S. economy is not doing a particularly good job of generating new jobs. What's more, for the week ending Aug. 31, the jobless claims' four-week moving average increased by 5,250 to 400,000 from its previous level of 394,750. Again, that's the wrong direction for job creation.