Although the manufacturing sector has posted steady employment gains over the past two and a half years, the gender gap has widened considerably, with the vast majority of new jobs going to male workers.
According to a new report released by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), manufacturing added 530,000 jobs from February 2010 to April 2013, but women saw a net loss of 28,000 manufacturing jobs over the same period while men gained 558,000 jobs. The findings highlight the severity of a long-term trend in declining female representation within industry. In 1990, women accounted for 32 percent of the manufacturing workforce, but today that share has fallen to 27 percent, the lowest level since 1971.
“Manufacturing is key to moving our economy forward, and we need all of our country’s talent – both men and women – to fill the jobs of tomorrow that our businesses are creating today,” Klobuchar noted. “We need to make sure that women have the skills and resources they need to succeed in these growing manufacturing industries.”
The senator emphasized the need for providing better training for women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, which are crucial to success in the manufacturing industry. Klubacher’s report found that women earn the majority of bachelor’s degrees in the U.S., but less than half of math and science degrees and less than 20 percent of engineering and computer science degrees.
“Getting women interested in manufacturing jobs would increase diversity and parity within the industry, but it would also be a financial boon for many companies,” U.S. News and World Report explains. “The manufacturing industry is facing a shortage of skilled workers, such as machinists and electrical technicians. A broader pool of qualified applicants (of either sex) could mean filling vacant jobs and boosting American manufacturing firms.”
Factory Output Declines in April
Total output from U.S. factories, mines, and utilities decreased 0.5 percent in April, the steepest decline in eight months, as manufacturers struggled to cope with weaker global markets and mounting federal spending cuts, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Following increases of 0.3 percent in March and 0.9 percent in February, industrial production faltered last month under increased financial pressures. Manufacturing production fell 0.4 percent, after dropping 0.3 percent drop in March. The utilities index plunged 3.7 percent in April, as heating demand fell back to a more typical level after a period of unusually cold weather, while mining output increased 0.9 percent.
“A European recession that extended to a record sixth quarter and slower growth in China are curbing sales for U.S. companies such as Deere & Co.,” Bloomberg News reports. “A second straight decrease in factory production combined with limited inflation show Fed policy makers have room to maintain record monetary stimulus as they try to bolster the expansion.”
Broad-based declines in the manufacturing sector, which is the single largest portion of overall industrial output, drove the bulk of the contraction. Durable goods production decreased 0.6 percent, led by a 1.7 percent drop in non-metallic mineral products and a 1.3 percent fall in motor vehicles and parts output.
“Most likely, slow growth in the U.S. and world economies will continue. Central banks are flooding the globe with liquidity, and legitimate concerns about fiscal prudence are once again being overshadowed by concerns about growth,” Cliff Waldman, senior economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), noted. “All told, U.S. manufacturing will likely continue with slow output gains as the year progresses. But the risks of something worse cannot be ruled out.”
Leading Economic Indicators Improve
The index of U.S. leading economic indicators rose sharply in April, reversing declines from the prior month. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) increased 0.6 percent in April to 95, following a 0.2 percent decline in March and a 0.4 percent increase in February.
“The index is 3.5 percent higher (annualized) than six months ago, suggesting expansion. However, the biggest risk right now is the adverse impact of cuts in federal spending,” Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, explained. “The biggest positive factor is the potential for improvement in the recovering housing and labor markets. The biggest unknown is the resiliency in confidence, both consumer and business.”
The LEI is a weighted gauge of 10 indicators designed to track business cycle peaks and troughs. Seven of the 10 indicators improved in April, led by permits to build new homes, the interest-rate spread, and improvements in labor market conditions. Despite the positive signs, consumers’ outlook on the economy remained generally weak.
“Other U.S. economic reports in the past week… have been a mixed bag, with some signaling slower growth,” MarketWatch reports. “Most economists expect the U.S. to drop down to a growth rate below 2 percent in the second quarter after expanding at a 2.5 percent clip in the first three months of the year.”
Jobless Claims Surge
New initial jobless claims increased significantly in the latest week reported, suggesting that the general slowdown in the U.S. economy is having a ripple effect on the labor market. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment insurance claims for the week ending May 11 rose by 32,000 to a total of 360,000, the highest level in a month and a half.
Moreover, the four-week moving average, which smoothes out volatility and provides a clear long-term picture of the job market, inched up by 1,250 to 339,250.
“Job creation would have to take place at a much faster pace to pull the nation’s 7.5 percent unemployment rate down to pre-recession levels of below 6 percent, but companies are unwilling to pad their payrolls until they’re convinced that demand is ready to climb to a higher long-term plateau,” MarketWatch reports. “So far this year there’s little evidence that’s about to happen.”
The number of people already receiving unemployment benefits fell by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3 million. The Labor Department estimates that 11.7 million people were unemployed in the U.S. last month.
ThomasNet’s 2013 IMB Survey: We Want to Hear from You
ThomasNet’s annual Industry Market Barometer (IMB) Survey, which probes the opinions of manufacturing industry professionals on the most important trends and most challenging hurdles in the coming year, is now accepting submissions.
The IMB Survey uses responses from a wide variety of manufacturing professionals to create a snapshot of current industry forces. This year, the survey will focus on issues related to the resurgence in American manufacturing through reshoring and education outreach, among other trends. Questions center on the growing diversity in manufacturing, changing technologies’ impact on traditional techniques, and the potential for growth markets here and abroad.
Anyone who participates in the IMB Survey is entered to win one of 25 $100 American Express gift cards via random drawing. To make your voice heard, please answer the brief survey here.