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Manufacturing Ends 2018 With Strong Job Gains

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing employment ended 2018 on a strong note, recording a gain of 32,000 jobs in December.

Durable goods industries contributed with an increase of 19,000 jobs, according to a breakdown by industry issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The manufacturing figures were part of strong job gains overall, with total non-farm employment rising 312,000 jobs last month, the bureau said in a statement.

Job gainers in durable goods included fabricated metal products, up 6,700 jobs, transportation equipment (up 4,100) and machinery (up 3,100). Non-durable goods industries added another 13,000 jobs.

The increase in transportation equipment included a gain of 1,800 jobs for motorized vehicles and parts. U.S. sales of cars and light trucks last year totaled 17.3 million, according to trade publication Automotive News. 2018 marked the fourth straight year with deliveries above 17 million. The year was also the fourth best ever, Automotive News said.

The auto industry faces a more uncertain year in 2019. General Motors Co. (Detroit) intends to idle five vehicle-assembly and engine plants in the U.S. and Canada. The final outcome will depend on union negotiations. GM will negotiate a new labor contract with the United Auto Workers union (Detroit) covering U.S. factory workers later this year. Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn MI) also is looking to cut salaried jobs, though details haven’t emerged.

Job gains were widespread within durable goods in December. Only three categories posted job losses, including wood products, down 1,100 jobs, and furniture (down 700).

Manufacturing totaled 12.842 million jobs in December on a seasonally adjusted basis. That was up from an adjusted 12.81 million in November and 12.558 million in December 2017. Manufacturing gained 284,000 jobs for the year, with three-quarters of the increase in durable goods, the bureau said in its statement.

Jobless Rate

The U.S. unemployment rate rose in December to 3.9%, up from a 49-year low of 3.7% the month before as more people entered the job market.

Manufacturing jobs peaked in June 1979 (19.6 million on a seasonally adjusted basis, 19.7 million unadjusted). That sank to a low of 11.45 million adjusted and 11.34 million unadjusted in February 2010 following a severe recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

Since that low, new manufacturing jobs have been created requiring increased skills because of increased automation and technology in factories.

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