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Recent Economic Trends in Manufacturing

The initial strength of the rebound in manufacturing after the Great Recession has cooled off in recent years.1 Although limited, the available data so far for 2017 indicates that there may be some renewed momentum for growth. Additionally, a monthly survey of manufacturers indicates that the sector is growing.

However, the U.S. manufacturing sector is made up of many industries that produce goods as diverse as food products, automobiles, furniture and refined petroleum products and the performance of these industries has varied considerably.

This report presents some of the latest data available and explores recent historical trends for the manufacturing sector as a whole and for its industries. Some findings from this report include:

  • Shipments from four manufacturing industries: motor vehicles, bodies, trailers, and parts; food, beverages, and tobacco products; petroleum and coal products; and chemicals accounted for over half of all shipments from the manufacturing sector in 2016.
  • Shipments, which are measured in nominal dollars, rather than quantities, can be greatly affected by changes in prices. The large decrease in oil prices over the past several years has driven down the value of shipments from the petroleum and coal products industry, which refines oil and other raw materials into usable goods.
  • In 2016, U.S. auto manufacturers assembled 3.9 million autos and 7.9 light trucks for a total of 11.8 million, the most since 2003.
  • Only three manufacturing industries registered international trade surpluses in 2016: other transportation equipment (excluding motor vehicles); petroleum and coal products; and paper.
  • Manufacturers have added 945,000 jobs since March 2010. More than 200,000 jobs have been added to both the motor vehicles and parts and food, beverages, and tobacco products industries. However, six of the nineteen manufacturing industries have had net job losses since the end of the recession.
  • The motor vehicles, bodies, trailers, and parts and chemicals industries have contributed the most to the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) since the end of the recession.

1 See Nicholson, Jessica R. and Ryan Noonan. Manufacturing Since the Great Recession. Office of the Chief Economist, Economics and Statistics Administration. June 2014. Available at https://www.commerce.gov/news/fact-sheets/2014/06/manufacturing-great-recession.

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