The Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that manufacturing job openings rose significantly, up from 259,000 in April to 310,000 in May. This is according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data. Essentially, job postings have returned to where they stood in March. The higher level suggests that manufacturers could increase their net hiring in coming months, which is a positive sign.
With that said, current hiring levels were essentially flat, down from 260,000 to 258,000 for the month. This is 2.2 percent of the total manufacturing workforce, a rate that has been the same since February. Meanwhile, manufacturing separations – which include layoffs, retirements, and quits – were up slightly from 239,000 to 241,000, or 2 percent of the manufacturing workforce. This suggests net hiring of 17,000 for May, which is down from 21,000 in April.
Numbers for the overall economy mirrored those of the manufacturing sector. The number of job openings rose from 3,477,000 to 3,642,000. (Of potential interest: some of this jump could be related to seasonal adjustments, as the non-seasonally adjusted data was slightly lower for the month.) Hiring and separations were also higher, but net hiring was lower in May than in April.
These numbers show a labor market that has weakened considerably in recent months, and yet, the higher job openings figure suggests some degree of cautious optimism looking forward. The key will be how many of these postings will translate into actual jobs. This will hinge on a growing economy and increased production levels, or stated differently, manufacturers will pick up hiring again once current uncertainties about economic growth are eased.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.