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December 29, 2004
Growth Slowing in Manufacturing
New job growth in the manufacturing sector continued to slow in December and is expected to stall further in January, according to indicators monitored in a joint project by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Rutgers University.

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The project, called the Leading Indicator of National Employment (LINE), found that overall, job growth continued in December. Nevertheless, the growth has slowed substantially since July.

And while manufacturers continue to recruit for open positions, skill shortages have not been severe enough to cause them to increase overall new-hire compensation.

Concerns about the fragility of the economic recovery may be causing firms to delay in creating new positions, according to SHRM. Another cause may be difficulty in finding people with the appropriate skills for existing positions, it says. Indeed, more than one-third of the firms participating in the project's latest survey reported increases between November and December in the number of job vacancies that they are actively recruiting to fill.

The LINE project identifies early economic trends and growth in the national job market by surveying HR professionals at manufacturing firms. SHRM notes that changes in the manufacturing sector are often early signs of shifts in the overall economy.

The following numbers show slowed employment growth through December and into January. An index value above 50 indicates employment is growing, while an index below 50 shows that employment is contracting.

 July 2004

Aug. 2004

Sept. 2004

Oct. 2004

 Nov. 2004

Dec. 2004








Manufacturing employment







Manufacturing vacancies







Recruiting difficulty







New hire compensation







Employment expectations







Manufacturing employment--December index: 59.6. The December LINE measurement indicates there was continued job growth in the manufacturing sector, although it does appear to be slowing somewhat from November.

Manufacturing vacancies--December index: 60.6. An increase in open positions is among the earliest indicators of a shift in the balance between labor supply and demand. LINE's job vacancy measurement for December indicates there continued to be more than twice as many firms reporting an increase in new vacancies than those reporting a decrease. Yet there remains a majority reporting "no change" from November in the number of open positions.

Recruiting difficulty--December index 55.9. How difficult it is for firms to find highly qualified applicants to fill positions is a measurement unique to LINE and not currently calculated elsewhere. The difficulty in finding qualified applicants will reflect changes in labor market conditions that do not necessarily result in changes in the unemployment rate.

In each of the last nine months, a substantial majority (70% to 80%) of the human resource executives reported that it was neither any more nor any less difficult to recruit highly qualified individuals to fill the vacant positions that were of greatest strategic importance to their firms.

New hire compensation--December index 53.3. New hire compensation currently is not measured in any other economic indicator, but it can be an early sign of economic expansion and a tightening job market. The compensation (wages and benefits) offered to newly hired employees should reflect changes in labor conditions more quickly than the average compensation among all employees. The majority of HR professionals said their company's new hire compensation package had not changed. There is no evidence of wage inflation among the manufacturing firms in the sample.

Employment expectations--December index 60.5. Whether HR executives expect their firm's employment to increase or decrease in the upcoming 30 days is a unique measurement not currently found in any other indicator. HR executives are often responsible for implementing hiring and layoff plans and are aware of expected near-term employment changes.

The December diffusion index for employment expectations (60.5) is at the lowest level of since LINE was initiated in February 2004. Nevertheless, the percentage of firms expecting to increase their employment head count within the next 30 days (35.1%) is still more than double the percentage expecting to reduce their employment (14.4).

In November's survey, 43.8 percent reported that they expected to increase their employment between November and December. In this month's survey, 42.1 percent reported that they actually did increase employment between November and December. If the December respondents are equally accurate in their forecasts for January, the new year will not begin with a substantial increase in manufacturing employment.

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