What’s in a Number?

Courtesy/NIST

NIST News

By Ken Voytek: 1212-12, the Mayan calendar, your lucky number, or your birth number. We obsess about data. Well, maybe only I do. Maybe I should take up numerology.

The most recent BLS reports compiling data on manufacturing provides an interesting picture. Uncertainty seems to the word of the day given the broader economic and policy environment.

If you read the headlines as my colleague Mark Schmit does, you come away with one picture. It appears that job growth in manufacturing has stalled according to BLS data and has leveled off since the spring of this year.

Between October and November, total manufacturing employment fell by seven thousand. However, digging below this headline number, durable goods manufacturing added jobs (+11 thousand) but was offset by job losses in non-durable goods manufacturing (-18 thousand.)

The chart below indexes total manufacturing employment (blue line), employment in durable goods (red line), and employment in non-durable goods (green line) since the trough of the last recession (June 2009.)

I also indexed manufacturing employment as reported by ADP (black line) as an alternative. It is not clear where manufacturing employment is headed. The ADP data (black line) paints a more optimistic picture when compared to the BLS data (blue line.)

Courtesy/NIST

However, like most things, the story of manufacturing is more nuanced, complex, dynamic, and sometimes even confounding than what headlines suggest or that a single indicator provides.

I am not sure where things are headed, but many other manufacturing indicators point toward an uncertain future.

The current pause in employment may well reflect a temporary response to uncertainty in the policy and economic environment but I don’t know for sure other than anecdotal evidence I gather from the field and what I see in other indicators and reports.

What do you think – is it just a pause before we get back on the path of growth or has manufacturing’s rebound peaked?

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