U.S. Manufacturing Employment Update: Continued Job Growth, Higher Wages

Manufacturing is alive and well in the U.S.: This industry has been leading job growth in the country, adding 222,000 jobs from February 2017 to the same month in 2018, and, in turn, boosting the economy. That’s because manufacturing jobs offer higher average weekly compensation with full work weeks and better benefits than many available alternatives. In fact, average weekly earnings for durable goods manufacturers — those working in sectors such as automotive, aerospace, and metal products, for example — reached $946.90 in February 2018. In the same month, weekly earnings averaged $900.55 across the industry and were, therefore, significantly higher than average private sector earnings of $757.12 per week.

Industry sectors with the most rapid job additions between February 2017 and 2018 reflected these increased durable goods manufacturing compensation trends and include “fabricated metal products,” having added more than 51,000, and “machinery” with over 37,000 additions, according to the “Manufacturers Are Hiring, and Hiring” article. In third and fourth places, deviating from the trend, came “food manufacturing” with 33,000 and “computer and electronic products,” adding over 21,000 additional employment roles. Perhaps more surprising were the industries with the biggest job gains during that same time frame: Both “plastic products” and “breweries, wineries, and distilleries” added more than 14,000 jobs each. Returning to reflect durable goods growth in third and fourth place were both “mining and oil and gas field machinery” and “machine shops,” having upped employment by at least 13,000 jobs each. Overall, the U.S. manufacturing sector employed about 12.6 million individuals by the end of February, the highest level since the end of December 2008.

In addition to these gains, manufacturers continued the upward momentum in March, hiring 22,000 new workers, which amounted to an eighth consecutive month of job gains for the industry. On the other hand, construction and retail segments respectively lost 15,000 and 4,400 jobs due to heavy snowstorms in the northeast U.S. Still, in part due to robust manufacturing sector gains, the economy as a whole added 103,000 jobs and manufacturing totals grew to 232,000 year over year.

As the industry continues changing and growing, changes in manufacturing job titles reflect the new skills required to keep pace with technology advancements allowing for these increased wages and higher industry production levels. Such advancements require industry veterans to adapt and learn new skill sets required to stay relevant in today’s manufacturing environment. Industry subsectors with new job titles also offer more career opportunities and better prospects for higher pay and career advancement. MIT economists, in their study covering 1980 to 2007, confirmed that over half of total U.S. employment growth came from “employment in occupations with new job titles.” Manufacturing is no exception.

After such a strong first quarter, should manufacturers expect to see continued gains in the months and years to come — as well as more new job titles offering additional opportunities and higher pay? For now, at least, all trends seem to point to “yes.”

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