US Job Gains In Manufacturing Leads Increase In Blue Collar Employment – Analysis


By Alan Barber*

Blue collar employment grew by 0.3 percent in July as the nation added 52,000 jobs in construction, manufacturing, and mining and logging. The number of jobs in these industries was 13.9 percent of total nonfarm jobs in the United States last month. This is a slight increase from July of 2017 when these jobs were 13.7 percent of nonfarm employment. Over the last three months, blue collar jobs added an average of 53,000 jobs a month.

Among Census regions, the Midwest saw an employment increase in blue collar jobs of 0.5 percent, an addition of 27,200 jobs. The states that colloquially make up the Rust Belt added 16,400 jobs, an increase of 0.3 percent. From July 2017 to July 2018, both regions (3.0 and 2.6 percent) lag behind the 3.4 percent increase in US manufacturing.


Manufacturing accounted for much of the gains in blue collar employment as the industry added 37,000 jobs, mainly in durable goods. It is too early to determine the impact of U.S. steel tariffs, but despite the President’s assertion that steel was already making a big comeback, employment in iron mills, steel mills, and ferroalloy production (a component of durable goods), increased 0.6 percent over the most recent three months.

In the three states that track these data on a monthly basis, the change in employment was -1.3 percent in Ohio and no change in Pennsylvania and Texas over the most recent three months.

3-Month Percentage Change Since the Recession, Iron and Steel Mills, Ferroalloy Production
3-Month Percentage Change Since the Recession, Iron and Steel Mills, Ferroalloy Production. Source: CEPR

Regionally, the Midwest and the West both had overall manufacturing employment increases of 0.4 percent (15,900 and 11,000 jobs each). Ohio added 4,700 jobs (+0.7 percent); Kentucky added 3,000 (+1.2 percent); and Illinois added 2,400 (+0.4 percent). Employment in the sector fell in Texas (3,500 jobs, -0.4 percent); Pennsylvania (1,600, -0.3 percent); and New York (1,100 jobs, -0.2 percent). Only four states saw a negative percent change in manufacturing employment compared to July of 2017 – Hawaii (-2.1 percent), New York (-1.1 percent), Vermont (-1.0 percent), and West Virginia (-0.2 percent).


The South saw the largest increases with the addition of 14,200 jobs (+0.5 percent). This was over two-thirds of the 19,000 construction jobs gained nationwide. Most of this growth was in Texas, which gained 10,500 jobs in construction last month, an increase of 1.4 percent (and 8.1 percent since July of 2017).

Over the past year, the largest percentage increases in construction were in Nevada (10.9 percent), Georgia (10.1 percent) and Arizona (10.0 percent). Mississippi saw a 3.1 percent decline in construction (-1,400 jobs) and Utah saw a decrease of 1.4 percent (-1,400 jobs).

Mining and Logging

Nationally, mining and logging employment fell by 0.5 percent in July. This decrease was largely due to a decline of 3,600 jobs in support activities for mining. Employment in the sector is up 14.5 percent in these largely contract jobs. Coal mining was flat with no change in employment. From July of 2017 to July of 2018, the only states in which jobs in mining and logging increased as a share of total nonfarm employment were Colorado (1.0 to 1.1 percent), Iowa (0.1 to 0.2 percent), North Dakota (4.4 to 4.7 percent), Oklahoma (2.9 to 3.2 percent), Texas (1.8 to 2.0 percent), Wisconsin (0.1 to 0.2 percent), and Wyoming (7.1 to 7.4 percent).

*Alan Barber is Director of Domestic Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C.


The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) promotes democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives.

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