Manufacturers added just 4,000 workers in February, the industry’s slowest monthly pace of job growth since July 2017 and pulling back from a gain of 21,000 jobs in January. The overall nonfarm payroll data were also disappointing, from a solid increase of 311,000 in January to 20,000 in February. Weather might have negatively impacted employment growth in the month, and economists were largely expecting a pullback after the strong figure in January (especially in the aftermath of the partial government shutdown). The consensus estimate was for around 180,000 jobs created, though, not the 20,000 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. I would not be surprised to see an upward revision in the next release or, at a minimum, a sharp rebound.
With that in mind, it is important to not read too much into these data, as the labor market continues to be strong overall. The U.S. economy has generated a robust 209,080 jobs, on average, each month over the past 12 months, with manufacturers hiring more than 20,000 workers per month, on average, since February 2017. In addition, the unemployment rate dropped from 4.0 percent in January to 3.8 percent in February, continuing to be near 50-year lows. In addition, the so-called “real unemployment rate” declined from 8.1 percent to 7.3 percent in this report, a rate not seen since March 2001. There were 12,834,000 manufacturing workers in February—the most workers in the sector since December 2008—with almost 1.4 million employees added since the end of the Great Recession.
Manufacturers are experiencing a tight labor market that is not expected to go away anytime soon, as businesses face concerns about finding the skilled workers they’ll need to continue growing. In the most recent NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey (released earlier this week), 9 in 10 manufacturers expressed a positive outlook for their business—hitting nine consecutive quarters of record optimism—but the inability to attract and retain workers continues to be the top concern for the sixth consecutive quarter. There are nearly half a million available manufacturing jobs in the United States.
And according to a study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute—the education and workforce partner of the NAM—manufacturers will need to fill 4.6 million jobs over the next decade. That’s why the NAM is working hard, in conjunction with the Trump administration through its American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, to develop cutting-edge solutions to address this workforce shortage. Our country’s continuing economic prosperity will depend on developing the tomorrow’s workforce today, and manufacturers are committed to leading the way toward that end.