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April Employment Shrinks in Manufacturing as Overall Job Growth Slows

May 7, 2021
The manufacturing sector lost 18,000 jobs in April after substantial growth in February and March.

Twelve months after the highest one-month unemployment spike in 70 years, job growth continued last month, but at a slower race than previously. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals nonfarm payroll employment in the U.S. added 266,000 jobs last month, less than half the 770,000 jobs added in March. The sluggish overall growth turned into employment loss in manufacturing: The sector lost a net 18,000 jobs, mainly due to heavy losses in transportation equipment.

Employment in the nonfarm economy is still down 8.2 million or 5.4% of its February 2020 levels, before the effects of the coronavirus recession took hold. Manufacturing itself is still down 515,000 jobs.

Durable goods manufacturing employment fell a net 20,000 jobs in April, driven by substantial losses in transportation equipment. That industry as a whole lost 28,000 jobs, almost all of which—27,000—were in motor vehicle and parts production.

Given that employment in motor vehicles and parts, according to revised data, actually rose slightly between February and March by about a thousand jobs, its not clear to what extent this most recent loss was effected by semiconductor shortages which have beleaguered the auto industry since the start of the year.

Other sectors in durable-goods production that lost workers last month were wood products, which lost 7,200 workers; fabricated metal products, which lost 2,900; and furniture and related products, which lost 1,400. Those industries can all be connected in part to huge increases in demand for primary materials. The price of lumber, in particular, has skyrocketed 280% since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Fortune magazine.

Losses in durable-goods production that gained workers include miscellaneous durable goods manufacturing, which added 12,600 workers; machinery, which added 3,700; and computer and electronic products, which added 2,100 workers overall.

Though it didn’t have any of the dramatic losses seen in transportation equipment and wood products, employment in nondurable goods production slowed dramatically last month, adding a mere 2,000 net jobs compared to the 23,000 added between February and March.

The chemicals industry and miscellaneous nondurable goods production led job growth in nondurables, as both added approximately 4,300 workers. Printing and related activities shed 2,900 workers and food manufacturing companies lost 2,600 employees in total.

In the economy overall, average hourly earnings for employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose 21 cents to $30.17. The average manufacturing worker’s hourly wages rose 17 cents from $29.16 to $29.33. Average hourly wages grew most dramatically in durable-goods production, where they rose by a quarter from $30.69 to $30.94; in nondurable goods, average wages grew about 7 cents an hour to $26.68.

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