US manufacturing jobs are starting to come back after a massive lockdown for the pandemic and manufacturers are bringing back their workers who were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. However, some manufacturers are retooling to meet the coronavirus related demands.
Manufacturing jobs hit by 11.4 million falling about more than 1.3 million between February to April which is the lowest number after the great recession. However, it increased in May and June by about 700,000, 6% below the same period in 2019, according to a Stateline analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Some states are trying to boost the number of manufacturing jobs by helping factories to reach out to potential customers of barriers, masks, and other personal protective equipment, or PPE. California, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio have established an online marketplace with state support for that purpose in June.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these states are the most dependent on manufacturing work. California has the most manufacturing jobs, while Indiana holds 20%, the largest share of the total work.
When manufacturers look at making such protective equipment, many are concerned about responsibility. States are also paving the way by passing laws or issued an executive order to limit liability during the pandemic. At least eight states have done and three more are considering it.
“If I’m making something I’ve never made before, am I going to be held to some obscure standard when I’m just trying to step up and do the right thing in an emergency?” said Linda Kelly, General Counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group.
Iowa, which has 17% manufacturing work, enacted legislation in June to protect coronavirus-related protective equipment manufacturers from personal injury or death lawsuits, unless they are subject to “reckless or intentional abuse.”
Automotive manufacturers across the country, including manufacturers of parts and suppliers, are facing the most problems. According to a Stateline analysis of Current Population Survey data provided by the University of Minnesota, Jobs in that sector dropped by 40% or about 580,000 jobs between March and April and increased by about 35,000 in May as some automakers started adding shifts again.
Indiana has had many factory layoffs in the automotive industry, launched a $4 million grant in “manufacturing readiness” in June to modernize factories to start coronavirus-related emergency healthcare supplies.
Large and small automobile plants have been turning into PPE as a side job. Auto plants in Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, and Tennessee are now producing face shields and ventilators. Cadillac Parts, a supplier near Detroit, began making hospital gowns when managers heard that local hospitals were in dire need.
William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and a former assistant labor secretary in the Obama administration said that it will be difficult to maintain a slight improvement in the automotive job because there’s a worldwide glut of unsold cars.
Ford Motor Company has called for a federal “cash for clunkers” program to get old cars off the road and increase demand, similar to one in California begun in 2009. According to Spriggs, it won’t help if other countries start dumping unsold cars in the U.S. expecting better returns from a stronger U.S. dollar.
Some types of factories could not recover during the epidemic. Ohio’s Libby Glass, a glassware maker for companies and restaurants, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 1 after shutting down production in Toledo and Shreveport, Louisiana.