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Bad News: Manufacturing Sheds Staggering 29,000 Jobs in March

April 1, 2016
While 215,000 jobs were added overall, manufacturing dropped almost 30,000 — and is now down 29,000 this year and 30,000 overall since December 2014.

Back in 1983, a Boston University professor emeritus named Joseph Boskin talked with an Associated Press reporter about the origins of April Fools’ Day. Boskin discussed a Roman Empire court jester named Kugel, a fool whose very job was to put the world in perspective with humor. To hear Boskin tell the story, Constantine I allowed Kugel to rule the empire for a day.

Unfortunately, the story itself was a hoax. Boskin created Kugel — in reality, the name of an Ashkenazi Jewish noodle pudding or casserole — right on the spot, at the request of the BU history department and the prompting of the AP reporter.

Which is a shame, because Kugel, or at least his comic descendants, might be able to put a much-needed spin on the latest manufacturing jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because they are awful.

While the economy overall added another 215,000 jobs in March, manufacturing dropped 29,000, a staggering number considering the 16,000 lost in February (since revised down to 18,000). Remember when we were all pumped (if not at least cautiously optimistic) about the 29,000 new manufacturing jobs in January (initially revised down to 23,000, and now down to 18,000)? A distant memory.

“March was the worst month for manufacturing jobs loss since December 2009,” said industry analyst Alan Tonelson, who covers manufacturing and the economy on his RealityChek blog. “It’s a long time. The March numbers also show that we’re now in a 16-month manufacturing jobs recession, with employment down net since December 2014.”

Run the numbers any way you like. The end result will be the same.

Manufacturing is down 29,000 jobs this month, and down 30,000 since December 2014. Over the last six years, manufacturing has regained just 36.5% of the almost 2.3 million jobs lost during the recession (while the private sector has, in contrast, added jobs since then, increasing 64.0% to more than 14.4 million jobs from its March 2010 numbers). On and on.

There are some bright spots. Tonelson pointed out that manufacturing wages increased 2.35% pre inflation in March, actually outpacing private sector wages (up 2.25%) for the third straight month. And Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, said demand and production have started to stabilize.

Still, the numbers are another indication of poor trade policies and the need for trade policy change, according to Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

“With 29,000 manufacturing jobs lost, it’s clear this issue isn't going away any time soon,” Paul said. “China’s massive industrial overcapacity, currency manipulation, and our growing China trade deficit continue to tip the scales, and it's laid-off U.S. factory workers who pay the price. That’s not right. American manufacturers can outcompete anyone in the world, but they need a level playing field.”

Expect these numbers and continued trade policy discussion to come up throughout the weekend and early next week, when the campaign trail hits Wisconsin. April primaries include key manufacturing state Wisconsin on Tuesday, Wyoming (for Democrats) on April 9, New York on April 19, and Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all on April 26.

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