The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that manufacturers added 22,000 workers in March, extending the 32,000 gain in employment in February. It was the sixth consecutive month with robust hiring growth in the sector, averaging 27,167 per month over that time frame.
As such, the latest jobs numbers confirm that the labor market has tightened significantly, with manufacturers increasing employment by a rather robust 18,733 per month on average since the end of 2016. That is quite a turnaround from the sluggish job growth in 2016, and it is a sign that firms have continued to accelerate their hiring as the economic outlook has strengthened and demand and production have improved considerably. Indeed, manufacturers have told us that challenges in recruiting new workers is their primary business concern right now.
Along those lines, average weekly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in the manufacturing sector edged down from $901.84 in February to $901.39 in March. However, that translated into a whopping 4.1 percent increase over the past 12 months, up from $865.26 in March 2017, which further illustrates the strength of the labor market right now.
Since the end of the Great Recession, manufacturing employment has risen by 1,179,000 workers, with 12.63 million employees in the sector in this report. That is the highest level of manufacturing employment since December 2008.
Despite the healthy increase in employment in manufacturing, nonfarm payrolls increased just 103,000 in March, well below the consensus estimate of around 190,000. This represented a notable easing from February’s solid gain of 326,000 workers. Weather might have been a factor in the slower activity in March. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent for the sixth straight month, continuing to be the lowest level since December 2000. In addition, the so-called “real” unemployment rate, which includes discouraged and other “marginally attached” workers, fell from 8.2 percent to 8.0 percent, the lowest level since November.
In March, durable goods manufacturers added another 22,000 workers on net, but employment at nondurable goods firms was flat. The largest increases included fabricated metal products (up 8,800), transportation equipment (up 4,800, with motor vehicles and parts up 3,300), miscellaneous nondurable goods (up 3,500), furniture and related products (up 3,300), computer and electronic products (up 2,800), electrical equipment and appliances (up 2,000) and machinery (up 2,000), among others. In contrast, employment declined in several segments in March, including printing and related support activities (down 2,500), chemicals (down 1,700), primary metals (down 1,100) and paper and paper products (down 1,000).