The U.S. economy added 227,000 net new jobs in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was a stronger-than-expected increase, but it was still below the revised gain of 284,000 in January. Manufacturers added 31,000 net new workers, bringing the sector’s three month increase to 111,000. Since December 2010, the manufacturing sector has generated 316,000 net new jobs. Over the same time period, there were 2.35 million nonfarm payroll jobs added in the past 14 months. Therefore, 13.4 percent of all of the nonfarm payroll jobs added in those 14 months were from manufacturing.
Much has been made of the participation rate lately, as we have seen a drop in the number of people employed over the past few months. The participation rate rose from 63.7 percent in January to 63.9 percent in February. Still, the rate was 64.2 percent in February 2011. Meanwhile, the number of discouraged workers dropped 53,000 in the month. The “real” unemployment rate – which included discouraged and underemployed workers – is now 14.9 percent, down from 15.1 percent last month.
Looking specifically at the February job gains in manufacturing, all of the net job gains stemmed from the durable goods sector, which rose by 31,000. Nondurable sector employment was flat. The largest gains came from fabricated metal products (up 11,400), transportation equipment (up 8,300, including 5,600 from motor vehicles), machinery (up 4,500), furniture and related products (up 3,100) and beverages and tobacco products (up 2,300). Declining sectors included printing and related support activities (down 2,500), miscellaneous manufacturing (down 1,600) and paper products (down 1,300).
The average workweek for manufacturers rose slightly from 40.9 hours in January to 41.0 in February. The average amount of overtime remained at 3.4 hours. Likewise, the average weekly earnings for manufacturing workers rose from $977.51 to $979.90.
Overall, these numbers show continued strength in the U.S. economy, with manufacturing playing a key role in the recent rebound. While total nonfarm payroll and manufacturing employment grew somewhat below the gains of January, the job gains of the past three or four months have been impressive. Manufacturers continue to express cautiously optimistic about activity over the next few months – something which bodes well for employment growth in the sector.
With that said, it is also clear that manufacturers are closely following the developments in Europe and the tax and regulatory discussions in DC. The recent run-up in energy and raw material prices has also captured their attention. Therefore, as we have noted for a while, anxieties about possible threats to the economy continue to persist, even as the domestic outlook has become more positive.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers