Strong auto sales contribute to December's growth in manufacturing jobs

Posted on January 7, 2013

This week’s upbeat report on 2012 auto sales helps explain why manufacturing jobs were one of the bright spots in today’s national employment report.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the nation added 25,000 manufacturing jobs in December. Those were part of an overall growth of 155,000 jobs last month. The gain in factory jobs marked a big increase over an average loss of 1,300 manufacturing jobs per month over the prior three months.

Specific Michigan numbers for December will be released later this month. But through November, Michigan had added 18,000 new factory jobs last year, including 8,000 in the automotive industry.

Better than expected auto sales coming out of the Great Recession accounted for much of the growth in Michigan manufacturing employment in recent years.

Scott Paul, executive director of the non-profit Alliance for American Manufacturing, applauded Friday’s upbeat report on factory jobs.

“So much for all that uncertainty over the ‘fiscal cliff,’” he said. “If that’s the pace of manufacturing job growth in President Obama’s second term, we’ll be on track to add 1.2 million manufacturing jobs.”

But Paul and others said more government action is needed to maintain a brisk pace in manufacturing growth.

“The new Congress would be wise to take up a jobs agenda,” he said. “Investment in infrastructure, innovation, and skills. Cracking down on China’s unfair trade practices. Tax reform to reward companies that move jobs back to America or grow new ones here.”

In a more downbeat assessment, economist Heidi Shierholz of the nonprofit Washington D.C. think tank Economic Policy Institute noted that U.S. wages saw no growth last year when adjusted for inflation.

“Persistent high unemployment has exerted strong downward pressure on wage growth,” she said.

The uptick in manufacturing marked just one of the gains in jobs in December. BLS also reported that the health care industry added 45,000 jobs in December, while restaurants and bars added 38,000 jobs and the construction industry added 30,000.

But the public sector – government – shed another 13,000 jobs in December. Since America began its economic recovery from the recession more than three years ago, the public sector has lost 645,000 jobs, with most of the local losses in K-12 public education.

“These losses represent an enormous drain on the recovery that was not weighing on earlier recoveries,” Shierholz wrote in an assessment Friday.

The national unemployment rate remained at 7.8% in December.

John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press.