The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the number of manufacturing job openings increased from 283,000 in November to 297,000 in December. This was the second-highest level of 2013 (below the 302,000 observed in October), and we have seen the job postings move upward since bottoming out at 210,000 in June. As such, manufacturing job openings have recovered from weaknesses seen earlier in the year, providing us with some hope that additional hiring might occur in the months ahead.
With that said, net hiring eased from the month before. Manufacturers hired 260,000 additional workers in December, down slightly from 256,000 in November. This was the second-highest pace in the past 18 months, suggesting that November’s increase was mostly sustained. Yet, the number of separations in the sector – including layoffs, quits, and retirements – also rose, up from 229,000 to 240,000. As such, net hiring (or hires minus separations) declined from 31,000 to 16,000. This suggests that employment growth in the manufacturing sector has decelerated a bit, even as it remained positive overall on net.
In the larger economy, total job openings decreased from 4,033,000 in November to 3,990,000 in December. In addition to manufacturing, there were marginal gains in job postings in the accommodation and food services, construction, professional and business services, and retail trade sectors. Net hiring also fell, down from 251,000 to 67,000.
Overall, these data confirm a bit of what we already knew, corresponding with the disappointing jobs reports that we have received for both December and January. At the same time, job openings in the manufacturing sector have generally moved in the right direction since the summer, which is definitely positive. Likewise, the most recent figures have shown that manufacturers averaged 15,500 additional net hires each month from August to January, indicating the pickup in demand and production seen since the beginning of the third quarter led to more hiring for the sector.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.