Andrey Popov/Dreamstime
A red 'NOW HIRING' sign in a business window.

Manufacturing Lags in Hiring but Has the Edge on Retention

Dec. 10, 2021
The latest government data shows manufacturing hiring failing to keep pace with job openings relative to other industries.

Employers across the country, especially manufacturers, are currently struggling to pick up enough new hires to meet demand in what some have called a “Great Resignation” of people leaving their pandemic-era jobs. Despite plummeting numbers of people on unemployment assistance in the United States, manufacturing is ahead of the rest of the private economy in terms of jobs to fill and turnover, and behind it in terms of hiring.

The latest report on job openings and labor turnover in the United States, released Wednesday by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that manufacturing has more job openings, proportionally to the size of its industry, than the rest of the private economy. As of the last business day of October 2021, the economy as a whole had about 11 million open jobs to manufacturing’s 1 million.

The job openings rates for private industry in total and for manufacturing specifically, as calculated by the Bureau based on preliminary figures, were 6.9% and 7.4%, respectively—indicating that manufacturing has more job openings as a proportion of total jobs.

That wouldn’t be a problem if hiring in manufacturing were keeping pace. It isn’t: Manufacturing’s hire rate, measured as the number of hires as a percentage of total employment, was 3.9% in October, while the overall private economy’s same rate was 4.4%.

In one case for optimism, manufacturing appears to be holding on to employees slightly better than the rest of the economy. While the separation rate—a measure which counts quits, layoffs, and other employee discharges together as a percentage of total employment—for the overall nonfarm economy was 4.0%, in manufacturing it was 3.6%, indicating workers were less likely to quit or be laid off than in other industries.

Meanwhile, initial unemployment insurance applications continue to fall to record lows. According to a different Department of Labor report, preliminary data for the week of December 4 shows new claims falling to 184,000, the lowest it’s been since September 6, 1969, when 182,000 people filed unemployment claims. (The Department of Labor had previously given this record to the week of November 20, but later revised up the number of claims for that week to 194,000.)

The number of people currently on unemployment insurance, though, rose by about 40,000 to roughly 2 million people—a remarkable improvement over the same time last year, when 5.8 million people were on insured unemployment.

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