Modest Growth in Blue Collar Employment in March

Growth in blue collar jobs was modest in March as the total number of jobs rose by 28,000 or 0.15 percent. This is less than the increase in February (0.5 percent) but is 1.1 percent (217,000) above the March 2016 level.

The construction sector lost 6,000 jobs last month, far less than the 59,000 growth reported for February. The latter was likely attributable in large part to unusually good winter weather in much of the country. The strong growth reported for February likely subtracted from the March figure, since it meant that jobs that would ordinarily return in the spring instead showed up in the winter. Construction employment is up by 175,000, or 2.6 percent from year-ago levels.

Manufacturing employment growth also slowed in March, with the sector adding 11,000 jobs in the month, compared with 26,000 jobs in February. Employment in the sector is up by 37,000 jobs or 0.3 percent from year-ago levels.

Mining employment was up by 11,300 jobs in March, mostly due to an increase of 8,800 jobs in the category of support industries for mining. Employment in the sector is up 4,200 from its year-ago level, an increase of 0.7 percent. The more narrow category of coal mining employment increased by just 100 jobs in March – at 50,300, it is down by 1,800 from year-ago levels.

The picture was mixed at the state level. In the construction sector, California saw the biggest gains in total number of jobs, adding 18,900 jobs in March. Employment is up by 42,200 since March of 2016. Georgia added 4,700 jobs in March for an increase of 11,200 on the year. In terms of the biggest percentage of jobs gains, Oregon’s construction jobs increased by 9.2 percent compared to March of last year and Rhode Island’s construction sector grew by 8.1 percent

While most states lost some construction jobs in March, Illinois and Louisiana saw the biggest falloffs, with decreases of 7,100 and 6,700 jobs respectively. Compared with last year, these losses are 2.2 and 5.3 percent lower, respectively.

In manufacturing, Kentucky added 2,800 jobs in March and 7,700 (2.9 percent) on the year. Both Florida and North Carolina’s manufacturing sectors grew by 2,600 for the month. For the year, manufacturing jobs are up by 13,100 (3.7 percent) in Florida, but down by 900 (0.2 percent) in North Carolina.

Among the rust belt states – those with a historically high percentage of blue collar jobs — the number of construction jobs fell by 0.2 percent (6,300) but is 2.1 percent higher (48,200) than in March of last year. The biggest losses were in Illinois (down 3.1 percent for the month, 2.2 percent compared to March 2016) and Pennsylvania (down 1 percent since last year). While Iowa did gain 1,100 construction jobs in March, jobs in the sector are still 2.3 percent lower than in March of 2016.

Manufacturing jobs in these states barely moved with a loss of 0.05 percent or 2,500 jobs for the month. This is 5,100 (0.1 percent) fewer jobs than in March of 2016. The only rust-belt states to see positive growth in manufacturing were Michigan (0.3 percent), Texas (0.1 percent), Iowa (0.1 percent) and Ohio (0.01 percent). These states have also experienced growth in this sector compared to March of last year with the exception of Iowa where the latest jobs total is 1.7 percent lower than March of last year. The largest decreases in manufacturing jobs were New York, down 2,700 jobs in March of 2017 and 12,900 compared to March 2016 (0.6 and 2.8 percent, respectively) and Pennsylvania, down 2,100 jobs (0.3 percent) in March 2017 and 6,800 (1.2 percent) versus March of 2016.

The big gainer in mining jobs was Texas, which saw an increase of 3,700 (1.7 percent) jobs for the month. Nonetheless, employment in the sector is still down by 5,100 jobs (2.1 percent) from its year-ago level. There was little change in mining employment in most other states.

While nationally, the number of blue collar jobs increased last month, growth was not as strong as February. This falloff was especially notable in the rust belt states. It appears that February’s growth was anomalous and growth in blue collar jobs may be leveling off. With the Federal Reserve Board’s data showing a drop in manufacturing output in March, the April jobs data may show further slowing.