Manufacturing Job Growth Disappointed in September for the Second Straight Month

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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. 

Manufacturers Add 28,000 Workers in July, Averaging 22,000 Over the Past Three Months

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturers added 28,000 workers on net in July, its fastest pace in eight months. There were also revisions to May and June data, adding another 11,000 to the bottom line. Overall, these data confirm two things that we have noticed in prior reports. First, hiring and manufacturing activity have largely rebounded from weaknesses earlier in the year. Indeed, average employment growth was 9,600 from December to April, but that was edged up to 22,000 over the past three months (May to July).

Second, total hiring has fared pretty well since the third quarter of last year – despite the winter disruptions – with the sector averaging almost 15,000 per month since August. This suggests that the pickup in demand and output seen in other indicators has led to increased hiring. Since the end of the 2009, manufacturers have created 683,000 new workers on net, or 7.3 percent of all nonfarm payrolls added over that time frame.

The July manufacturing job gains mostly resided in the durable goods sectors, which added 30,000 employees for the month. In contrast, nondurable goods firms shed 2,000 workers. The largest employment gains were in transportation equipment (up 19,200, with 14,600 coming from motor vehicles and parts), furniture and related products (up 3,200), fabricated metal products (up 2,600), primary metals (up 1,700) and computer and electronic products (up 1,600).

In contrast, food manufacturing (down 3,600), nonmetallic mineral products (down 1,400), paper and paper products (down 1,100), electrical equipment and appliances (down 1,000) and printing and related support activities (down 1,000) were among the sectors with declining employment in July.

Despite the increase in employment, the average number of hours worked and payroll data for manufacturers both moved down slightly. Manufacturing employees worked an average of 40.9 hours per week in July, with 3.4 hours of overtime. This was down from 41.4 hours and 3.5 hours, respectively. In addition, average weekly earnings dropped from $1,020.92 to $1,018.00. Nonetheless, earnings have generally moved higher, rising 2.7 percent year-over-year from $991.45 in July 2013.

Meanwhile, nonfarm payrolls increased by 209,000 employees in July, the sixth straight month with the economy creating at least 200,000 workers. Since January, nonfarm payrolls have increased by an average of 244,167 per month, which represents progress from the 194,250 average seen for all of 2013.

Still, the unemployment rate rose from 6.1 percent in June to 6.2 percent in July as more Americans came back into the labor market. The participation rate rose marginally, up from 62.8 percent to 62.9 percent. It continues to remains near 30-year lows. In addition, the labor market continues to have sufficient “slack” in it, with part-time employment for economic reasons up from 7.27 million in May to 7.51 million in July.

In conclusion, today’s jobs numbers were positive, particularly for manufacturers, but not overwhelmingly so. Nonfarm payroll growth was below consensus estimates, but it also achieved its sixth consecutive monthly increase of at least 200,000 net new workers. That represents progress, and yet, behind the scenes, we still get a sense that job gains could have been greater. The labor market continues to have too many people who are either underemployed or employed part-time, and the participation rate remains at historic lows.

Even in manufacturing, while we have seen improvements from earlier in the year, one could easily make the case that hiring should be more broad-based. For instance, the auto sector alone accounted for over half of July’s job gains, and the nondurable goods sector continues to struggle. Ideally, we would like to see all sectors within manufacturing experience job gains moving forward.

However, manufacturers continue to express a palpable sense of frustration both with the slowness of economic growth and with the political process. Washington’s burdensome regulatory, tax and health care policies still loom large in business decisions, particularly for the smallest manufacturers. In addition, manufacturers continue to wait on Congress to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, which serves as a critical tool for job creation and economic growth for small, medium and large manufacturers.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

Manufacturers Added 19,000 Workers in October, the Most Since February

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Manufacturers added 19,000 net new workers in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was the largest monthly gain since February and an improvement over September’s upwardly revised 4,000 additional employees. August and September jobs data were both revised higher from earlier estimates, each by 2,000 workers. While the October jobs number was definitely better than recent figures, it is still clear that hiring growth for the sector has been disappointingly slow. On a year-over-year basis, manufacturers have added 55,000 additional workers, or 2.4 percent of the 2.3 million nonfarm payroll workers added over the past 12 months.

In October, both durable and nondurable goods firms added workers on net, up 12,000 and 7,000, respectively, from September. Motor vehicles had the largest monthly gain in the manufacturing sector, adding 5,700 additional workers for the month and 47,500 year-over-year. Other sectors with significant gains for the month included food manufacturing (up 3,800), furniture and related products (up 3,400), fabricated metal products (up 3,100), wood products (up 3,100), chemicals (up 2,300), miscellaneous nondurable goods (up 2,300), and electrical equipment and appliances (up 1,500).

In contrast, the following sectors experienced losses in employment for the month: computer and electronic products (up 3,200), primary metals (down 1,600), petroleum and coal products (down 1,100), paper and paper products (down 900), textile product mills (down 500), and machinery (down 300).

Consistent with the net pickup in hiring for the month, the average number of hours worked also edged up marginally. Durable goods employees worked an average of 42.4 hours a week with 4.5 hours of overtime, up from 42.3 hours and 4.4 hours, respectively. Likewise, average weekly hours in the nondurable goods sector in October was 41.2 hours and 4.3 hours, each up 0.1 hours from September. Average weekly earnings were up just barely, however, increasing from $811.18 to $811.60.

Meanwhile, nonfarm payrolls increased by a surprisingly strong 204,000 in October, well above the consensus estimate of around 130,000. Similar to the manufacturing data, the August and September jobs figures were revised higher, adding 107,500 nonfarm payroll workers to the previous two months. The average number of nonfarm payroll workers added each month so far this year has been 186,300, with an average of 201,667 in the past three months (August to October). This indicates that some of the hiring weaknesses mid-year might be beginning to stabilize for the larger economy.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose from 7.2 percent to 7.3 percent, back to where it was in September. This corresponded to a tick up in the participation rate, up from 63.2 percent in September to 63.8 percent in October, suggesting that some workers might be returning to the job market. The number of part-time workers employed for economic reasons also edged higher, up from 7.93 million to 8.05 million.

Overall, employment in October was much better than expected. They reflect the recent pickup in the economy, consistent with yesterday’s also surprisingly strong real GDP figures. As noted above, manufacturers added the most workers in October since February, a sign that the recent acceleration in activity in the sector has spurred some hiring.

Yet, it is also clear that manufacturing job gains continue to be disappointingly slow over the past year, a reflection of the softness in the sector in the spring and summer months. Manufacturers contributed just 2.4 percent of all of the nonfarm payroll workers added over the past 12 months, a far cry from the nearly 9 percent of the workforce that they comprise. And, even in the larger economy, unemployment remains highly elevated, with net job gains still modest at best.

For that reason, policymakers need to consider pro-growth measures that will further spur economic output and build on the job gains experienced last month. Fortunately, manufacturers remain cautiously optimistic about the fourth quarter and 2014 production and sales, and with enough momentum, perhaps the pace of expected hiring might pick up, as well.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.


Manufacturers Add 6,000 Workers in July, Ending Four Months of Declines

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Manufacturers added 6,000 workers on net in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, following four straight months of declines in the sector. While this is a positive development, it is important to note that manufacturers have hired just 40,000 workers over the past 12 months, or 1.8 percent of all of the 2.3 million net new nonfarm payroll jobs created during that time. In contrast, the manufacturing sector produced outsized gains of 10.4 percent of all of the net new jobs in the years of 2010 and 2011. Clearly, we need to get back to where the sector is growing strongly and added new workers at a faster pace.

Looking specifically at manufacturing sector employment in July, durable goods industries added 8,000 workers on net for the month, with nondurable goods firms shedding 2,000. The motor vehicle sector alone contributed 9,100 to this total, continuing a rebound that has added 29,900 additional workers in the past 12 months and 164,600 since the end of 2009.

Outside of autos, the largest monthly gains were in the plastics and rubber products (up 2,600), chemicals (up 1,700), machinery (up 1,700), nonmetallic mineral products (up 1,700), and wood products (up 1,600) sectors. On the negative side, sectors with declining employment in July included food manufacturing (down 5,500), computer and electronic products (down 3,200), and primary metals (down 1,400), among others.

Despite the very modest increase in manufacturing employment in July, the number of hours worked and average weekly earnings edged slightly lower for the month. The average number of hours worked in the manufacturing sector declined from 40.8 in June to 40.6 in July, with the average number of overtime hours off from 3.4 hours to 3.2 hours. These decreases were seen in both the durable and nondurable goods sectors. As a result, average weekly earnings in manufacturing dropped from $995.93 to $989.42. Overall, average weekly earnings have risen 1.5 percent year-over-year.

In the larger economy, nonfarm payrolls increased by 162,000 in July, somewhat lower than the consensus estimate of 185,000. The average number of workers added in each of the first seven months of this year was roughly 192,400.

At the same time, the unemployment rate declined from 7.6 percent in June to 7.4 percent in July, its lowest level since December 2008. The lower unemployment rate might normally be seen in a positive light, and yet, this news is tempered by a slight drop in the labor participation rate from 63.5 percent to 63.4 percent. (This was still better than the 63.3 percent recorded in March and April, which was the lowest levels seen since May 1979.) In addition, the number of workers employed part time for economic reasons has grown from 7.6 million in March to 8.2 million in July, suggesting that there is more softness in the labor market than the headline figures might suggest.

In conclusion, the fact that manufacturers have added workers in July, ending four months of net losses, is definitely a positive sign. And yet, when you look beyond gains in the motor vehicle sector, job growth continues to weak, and the average number of hours worked last month dropped slightly. While we have seen signs of improvement in the manufacturing sector for output and sales (see yesterday’s Institute for Supply Management report), this has not yet translated into anything beyond modest hiring growth. Manufacturers continue to be hesitant to add new workers, a trend that will probably continue until they perceive the economic marketplace to be on a firmer footing. Even with some optimism about the second half of 2013, for instance, many business leaders remain cautious.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

Manufacturing Job Openings Lower for the Third Straight Month

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that manufacturing job postings declined from 243,000 in April to 236,000 in May, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). This represents the third consecutive monthly decline in openings, down from 274,000 in February and 302,000 in May 2012. This data reflects recent weaknesses in the sector, with softer sales growth both domestically and globally. It also mirrors (with a one-month time lag) the latest jobs numbers.

Net hiring in May was negative for the third month, with a pickup in hiring being offset by a larger increase in separations. Manufacturers hired 236,000 workers in May, up from 201,000 in March and 222,000 in April. Even with the movement in the right direction, the pace of hiring remains subpar, as it remains below the 261,000 level observed 12 months ago (and the 381,000 hired in May 2007 prior to the recession).

Meanwhile, total separations – which include layoffs, quits, and retirements – rose by an even larger amount, up from 203,000 in March to 224,000 in April to 247,000 in May. As a result, net hiring (or hiring minus separations) in May was a decline of 11,000 workers, weaker than the -2,000 observed in both March and April.

In the larger economy, both job openings and net employment gains were higher, but they the job growth was weak overall. The number of job openings rose from 3,800,000 in April to 3, 828,000 in May. At the same time, net hiring rose from 108,000 to 118,000 for the month. Sectors with increased hiring in May included construction, manufacturing, retail trade, and accommodation and food services. There were fewer hires, though, in the professional and business services, health care and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, and government sectors.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

Monday Economic Report – July 8, 2013

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Here is the summary from this week’s Monday Economic Report:

As we saw in last week’s report, there was modest progress in manufacturing activity in June. While the previous write-up discussed improvements in sales and output from regional sentiment surveys, the noted gains this time were found in the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) report. The index rose from 49.0 in May to 50.9 in June, just barely expanding after contracting for the first time since November. Rebounds in new orders and production spurred the higher figure. Even with these gains, concerns remain, with sluggish (but positive) domestic and global sales dampening more robust growth. The one notable challenge was hiring, with the PMI measure for employment slightly negative.

Friday’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed this finding. Manufacturing employment declined by 6,000 in June, falling for the fourth consecutive month. The sector has added just 1 percent of all net new jobs over the past 12 months, a sluggish pace that suggests a continued hesitance to bring on new workers, particularly in light of softer demand.

In contrast, the larger macroeconomy has fared better, producing 195,000 net new nonfarm payroll workers for the month and significant revisions to both April and May of 70,000 workers total. Yet, the employment numbers also indicated an increase in part-time employees, helping to boost the “real” unemployment rate—which includes those who are marginally attached to the labor force—from 13.8 percent to 14.3 percent. (The more widely reported unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.6 percent.) Nonetheless, market observers saw the jobs report as a positive development, with an average of 201,833 new nonfarm workers added each month so far in 2013. This indicates a pickup in the hiring pace of 2011 and 2012, which averaged 175,000 and 182,500 each month, respectively.

On the trade front, the U.S. trade deficit rose from $40.1 billion in April to $45.0 billion in May. While goods exports were marginally lower for the month, goods imports increased by $4.2 billion. Manufactured goods exports have increased just 1 percent in the first five months of 2013 relative to the same time period in 2012. Such slow export growth is one reason that manufacturing demand has been soft this year. Reduced sales to the European Union are a large factor, with manufactured goods exports to the region down 6.2 percent in the year-to-date comparisons of 2012 and 2013. Beyond manufacturing, lackluster export growth also makes it harder for the United States to double exports by 2015, a priority the President outlined in his National Export Initiative.

This week, there will be two additional manufacturing surveys to analyze, including one from Chapman University in California and another from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI). Hopefully, they will show continued progress on new orders, output and overall sentiment. Beyond these reports, we will also get new data on consumer confidence, consumer credit, job openings, producer prices and wholesale trade.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

Manufacturing Employment Declines in June for the Fourth Straight Month

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that nonfarm payrolls increased by 195,000 in June, higher than the consensus estimate of around 165,000. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.6 percent, and revisions to the April and May data added 70,000 workers. While these were decent numbers, it is clear that weaknesses remain. The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons increased by 322,000, and the so-called “real” unemployment rate, which includes those marginally attached to the labor force, rose from 13.8 percent to 14.3 percent, erasing the gains in this measure since February.

As expected, manufacturing employment remains very soft, with 6,000 fewer workers in June than in May. This was the fourth straight month of declining manufacturing employment, continuing hiring weaknesses in the sector that we have seen since mid-2012. Over the course of the past 12 months, the sector has added just 29,000 net new workers, or 1.3 percent of all of the 2.3 million nonfarm jobs added during that time. Such a paltry rate of manufacturing job growth is a sign that we need pro-growth measures to boost the sector, particularly given the outsized role in output in employment that we experienced earlier in the post-recession environment.

Looking specifically at the June manufacturing numbers, there were losses of 3,000 workers in both the durable and nondurable goods sectors. The total job losses in manufacturing would have been greater if it were not for the 5,100 additional workers in the motor vehicle sector, continuing its robust growth. Nonetheless, the largest declines were in electrical equipment and appliances (down 3,300), primary metals (down 2,800), wood products (down 1,700), and nonmetallic mineral products (down 1,500).

While the overall number of workers in the manufacturing sector fell on net, the average weekly hours edged slightly higher from 40.8 hours to 40.9 hours, and the average number of overtime hours stayed constant at 3.3 hours.

In conclusion, job growth in the larger economy appears to be moving in the right direction, even as the unemployment rate remains elevated and there are still persistent challenges. The monthly average for nonfarm payroll gains in the first six months of 2013 was 201,833, which is faster than the 182,500 average for all of 2012. Yet, the manufacturing sector’s weaknesses are notable, as mentioned above. Weaker global growth and slower domestic demand have combined to slow the need for additional hiring – something that needs to be turned around for the sector to once again flourish.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

Manufacturing Employment Was Unchanged in April

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The U.S. economy added 165,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in April, and there were upward revisions of 114,000 additional nonfarm workers in the months of February and March. The higher February number suggests that job growth in that month was now the highest in almost 3 years. Indeed, for the larger economy, the employment data including the revisions could be perceived as somewhat positive. Yes, we would like to see even greater job gains on a month-by-month basis, but the economy added almost 196,000 workers on average in the first four months of 2013. This is higher than the nearly 183,000 average of 2012.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent. This is the lowest level since December 2008. At that time, the rate was on its way up, topping off at 10 percent in October 2009. The unemployment rate was 9 percent in April 2011, illustrating its descent in the past two years. Its decline can be explained by two factors: an improving jobs picture and a falling participation rate. In April, the participation rate was unchanged at 63.3 percent. As noted last month, this rate is the lowest since May 1979.

For manufacturers, the news has been less positive. Manufacturing employment was unchanged in April, only slightly lower than the gain of 2,000 workers experienced in March. The revisions to February and March data added 9,000 workers to those two months. Still, over the past 12 months, the sector has actually shed 10,000 workers, illustrating significant weaknesses for manufacturers, especially after July 2012. As we have noted since then, some of the challenges have been slowing domestic and global sales and fiscal and regulatory uncertainties. Recent surveys indicate that this softness persists in March and April data of manufacturing activity on weaker new orders, with hiring continuing to be skittish as long as policies out of Washington continue to provide uncertainty and undue burdens.

Looking specifically at manufacturing sectors, durable goods industries added a net 1,000 workers in April, which was counteracted by a net decline of 1,000 workers from nondurable goods businesses. Manufacturing sectors with employment gains for the month included machinery (up 3,600), transportation equipment (up 3,000, with 2,400 from motor vehicles), fabricated metal products (up 2,500), and food manufacturing (up 2,300). On the negative side, sectors with losses in April were printing and related support activities (down 3,100), apparel (down 2,900), computer and electronic products (down 2,000), wood products (down 1,700), and nonmetallic mineral products (down 1,300).

Reflecting the flat nature of the employment data, overall compensation in the manufacturing sector was also essentially stalled, declining marginally. Average weekly earnings in the sector decreased from $985.73 in March to $982.91 in April. In addition, there were slightly fewer hours worked on average. The average weekly hours in manufacturing in April were 40.7 hours, down from 40.8 hours the month before. Moreover, average overtime hours dropped from 3.4 hours to 3.3 hours.

In short, the manufacturing sector has not performed as well as the larger economy when it comes to jobs gains. This is not to suggest that nonfarm payroll growth is stellar – because it is not – but at least we have seen upward movement in overall hiring. Nonfarm payroll growth is approaching 200,000 on average each month, which is decent and higher than what was seen last year.

Yet, hiring in the manufacturing sector leaves a lot to be desired, going beyond the stalled growth of April. Over the course of the past 12 months, manufacturers have added just over 6,000 workers on net each month. That is well shy of what we like to see coming from the sector, and it is a sign of just how soft new orders and other activity have been for the industry of late. As noted in February in a speech by NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, we would like to see average monthly job gains of around 20,000. To achieve this “20/20 Vision” – as it has been dubbed – manufacturers will need pro-growth policies stemming from Washington, and it will require stronger economic growth overseas, which will help to drive greater exports.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

Stronger Manufacturing Gains in December, Challenges Remain

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the manufacturing sector added 25,000 net new workers in December, its strongest monthly gain since March. This stands in contrast to the ADP figures released yesterday, which have found six straight months of declining manufacturing employment. The official government data reflect a more-positive uptick for the sector.

Over the course of 2012, manufacturers hired an additional 180,000 workers on net, or 10 percent of all nonfarm payroll jobs created this year, the majority of which were created in the first half of 2012. This was slower growth than we had hoped to see, clearly the fiscal cliff and other uncertainties had an impact in the second half of the year. 

Looking more specifically at the December manufacturing employment numbers, durable and nondurable goods sectors added 11,000 and 14,000 workers, respectively. Most of these gains can be largely contributed to rebuilding after Sandy as construction jobs also saw an increase of 30,000.

The largest gains were seen in the motor vehicle and parts (up 4,800), food manufacturing (up 4,500), chemicals (up 4,300), nonmetallic mineral products (up 3,500), plastics and rubber products (up 2,100), and machinery (up 2,000) businesses.

Even with this uptick in December several areas of weakness were found in manufacturing. We saw losses in electrical equipment and appliances (down 2,100), fabricated metal products (down 700), paper and paper products (down 500), apparel (down 400), and furniture and related products (down 400). Read More

A Disappointing May Jobs Report

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 69,000 net new jobs in May, with manufacturing up just 12,000. This is another disappointing labor report which is consistent with recent weaknesses we’ve seen in the global and domestic marketplace. Several other recent economic indicators have shown growth easing in the spring months. Both manufacturers and consumers are anxious about Europe and uncertain about long-term tax policies. 

The unemployment rate edged slightly higher to 8.2 percent, up from 8.1 percent in April. Looking at the so-called real unemployment rate, which includes discouraged and underemployed workers, that figure rose from 14.5 percent to 14.8 percent.

Manufacturers have increased employment over the past six months by 173,000 net workers, or 16.5 percent of all of the nonfarm payroll jobs added during that time. Since the end of 2009 manufacturing has added 487,000 workers.

The sector remains a bright spot, with outsized contributions to both employment and output but we have to do much better in order to continue to drive economic growth. Manufacturers need policies from Washington which will enable them to invest, create jobs and remain competitive against global competition. Currently they are facing many difficult challenges and headwinds which are negatively impacting job growth.

Durable goods industries added 13,000 jobs in May, with nondurable companies shedding 1,000. The fastest growth was seen in motor vehicles (up 5,800), fabricated metals (up 5,700), primary metals (up 3,800), beverage and tobacco products (up 2,700) and machinery (up 2,500).

Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.