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Factory Jobs Downright Robust

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In January, the US added 50,000 manufacturing jobs, the largest amount since January 2011. However, the performance is even more impressive than that would imply. Since 1990, we have only seen that level of factory job growth matched of exceeded five times -- 2.3% of the time.

Looking even further back to 1980, we have added 50,000 or more factory jobs in just 28 months, or 7.3% of the time. Even if we go back to 1970, we have only added that many jobs 15.0% of the time. The first graph shows the history of monthly changes in factory jobs.

This has not been a one-month flash in the pan, as we have now added factory jobs in 21 of the last 24 months. Prior to February 2010, we went 43 straight months with declining factory jobs. Year over year, we have added 235,000 jobs. While that is down slightly from last month, prior to December, the last time we saw that sort of year over year job growth was in May 1998.

Since 1970, the average year-over-year change in factory jobs has been a loss of 162,000. If you shorten up the history, the picture is even worse, with an average change since January 1980 of 239,000 jobs lost; since 1990, the average jumps to 282,000. Here is the same data presented as the year-over-year change in factory jobs:

Given the secular decline in factory jobs since 1980, if the year-over-year changes are put in percentage-change terms, the results look even more impressive. Clearly we are not adding factory jobs at anything like the rate that we did in the 1970’s, but relative to the record since the early 1980’s, it sure looks pretty impressive.

Question is: Are we seeing simply a flash in the pan -- a rebound from the awful declines during the Great Recession -- or do you think that we are at the start of a renaissance in American manufacturing?

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