The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that manufacturing job postings edged lower in November, down from 281,000 in October to 276,000 in November. The good news is that the number of openings in the sector retained most of the rebound observed in October after weaknesses seen in August and September. Job postings among manufacturers remained at 2.3 percent of the size of the total workforce in the sector. In essence, job openings growth was essentially flat, even as it was down by 5,000.

The other big story with the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data as it pertains to manufacturing is the continued sluggishness for hiring. Net hiring for manufacturers turned negative again, erasing the gains seen in October. There were 231,000 manufacturing hires in November, down from 242,000 in October. At the same time, separations in the sector – which include layoffs, quits, and retirements – rose from 228,000 to 232,000. This suggests net hiring of -1,000 in November.

This data corresponds to other indicators in the November timeframe which found manufacturers skittish toward employment growth. In the post-election environment, business leaders became more anxious about slowing sales and the prospects of going over the fiscal cliff. Indeed, the most recent NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers – released in early December – found that net hiring plans were negative for the next 12 months. It is still too early to know if that dynamic has changed since then in light of the fiscal cliff deal, but manufacturers remain cautious by-and-large even today.

In the larger economy, there was not much different in the November data than from the month before. Overall job postings were only marginally higher, up from 3,665,000 to 3,676,000, or 2.7 percent of the nonfarm workforce for both. The number of hires rose from 4,316,000 to 4,319,000, with net hiring of 181,000. Sectors with increased hiring in the month of November included construction, professional and business services, and state and local governments.

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

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