The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturing job openings declined for the third month in a row in February. After peaking at 298,000 in November, the number of job postings in the sector has continued to move lower, with 250,000 openings recorded in February. Weather has negatively impacted overall economic activity over much of this period, and it is possible that winter conditions hampered employment growth, as well. Nonetheless, this is a trend that will hopefully reverse with coming data, and it reverses what had been upward movement from May to November of last year (up from 203,000 to 298,000).
Net hiring has followed a similar pattern and was also lower in February for the third straight month. Manufacturers added 234,000 workers in February, down from 244,000 in January. At the same time, the number of separations – including layoffs, quits, and retirements – fell from 242,000 to 236,000 for the month. As such, net hiring (or hires minus separations) shifted from a net gain of 2,000 in January to a net loss of 2,000 in February. This was well below the net hiring rate of 41,000 observed in November, illustrating the current softness in the labor market.
In contrast, employment numbers in the larger economy improved in February. Total job openings increased from 3,874,000 in January to 4,173,000 in February. This was the fastest pace for job postings since January 2008. Likewise, net hiring in the month in the nonfarm business sector rose from a rather weak 97,000 in January to 203,000 in February. While manufacturers hired fewer workers in the month, there were notable increases for retail trade, leisure and hospitality, and government.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.