The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturers added 4,000 net new workers in September. As such, manufacturing job growth has disappointed for the second straight month, with August’s figure revised from being unchanged to being down by 4,000 employees. Prior to August, the sector had averaged 14,429 additional hires per month on net, and there was (and still is) an anticipation for that pace to continue moving forward.
Instead, job growth in the manufacturing sector was soft in August. Durable goods firms added 7,000 new employees, with nondurable goods businesses losing 3,000 workers. There was increased employment observed in the motor vehicles and parts (up 3,300), fabricated metal products (up 2,000), furniture and related products (up 1,400) and primary metals (up 1,100). Yet, these were partially offset by reduced hiring for electrical equipment and appliances (down 1,100), chemicals (down 900), computers and electronic products (down 400) and petroleum and coal products (down 400), among others.
Average weekly earnings were slightly lower, down from $1,018.41 in July to $1,015.14 in August, essentially returning to July’s numbers. This still reflects improved movement long term. In addition, the average number of hours manufacturers worked per week remained unchanged at 40.9, with the number of overtime hours edging up from 3.4 to 3.5.
Meanwhile, the larger economy generated 248,000 new nonfarm payroll workers in September. This means that 7 of the past 8 months have had net job gains exceeding 200,000 per month, averaging 226,667 per month over the first three quarters of 2014. This reflects overall job growth that has improved from last year’s 194,000 average.
In addition, the unemployment rate fell from 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent, its lowest level since July 2008. However, one persistent challenge has been the labor force participation rate, which dropped from 62.8 percent to 62.7 percent. That rate was the lowest since February 1978.
Overall, the data are mostly positive, particularly for the U.S. economy as a whole. It is encouraging to see upward movement in job creation, with the unemployment rate falling to a six-year low. Still, there continues to be sufficient slack in the labor market, and manufacturing employment growth was well below expectations in both August and September. Manufacturers remain mostly optimistic about demand and production, and recent data on hiring plans would seem to indicate stronger job growth than what these figures show. We hope to begin to see healthier employment gains in the coming months. If not, this report tends to support a degree of cautiousness in the economic outlook that might dampen an otherwise positive expectation about the next few months.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.