Plus: Monthly Job Losses Less than Expected, Chinese Manufacturing Rebounds and Employers Shift Health Care Costs to Workers.
The majority of Americans believe the manufacturing industry and its workforce are vital to the United States economy, and developing a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority, according to a new Labor Day survey from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.
The second annual survey, conducted among 1,055 Americans across 50 states by an independent research company in June 2010, found that 78 percent of Americans have a strong view of the significance of manufacturing, seeing it as very important to the country’s economic prosperity. A similar number of respondents, 76 percent, said they consider manufacturing very important to the standard of living in the U.S.
Furthermore, when asked to select from a list of 21 attributes that make American manufacturing globally competitive, respondents identified the following as the top three: work ethic, skilled workforce and productivity — well ahead of non-workforce-related attributes like infrastructure and natural resources.
“Clearly, the public believes in the importance of manufacturing and the talent of the American worker,”Craig Giffi, vice chairman and Deloitte’s consumer and industrial products industry leader in the U.S., said in a statement. “These findings fly in the face of the commonly held sentiment that Americans no longer have faith in manufacturing and that the workforce has lost its ability to compete with other parts of the world when it comes to making things.”
Giffi also noted that the public is “surprisingly enthusiastic” about charting a course that will ensure the manufacturing industry’s future.
In the survey, 75 percent of respondents said they believe the U.S. needs a more strategic approach to developing its manufacturing base. Moreover, roughly the same percentage believe the country should invest more in the manufacturing industry, while 68 percent believe developing a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority.
U.S. Job Losses Less than Expected
The U.S. economy shed 54,000 non-farm jobs in August, causing the unemployment rate to rise to 9.6 percent, one-tenth higher than it was the previous two months, the U.S. Department of Labor reported last week.
The number of jobs lost was much lower than experts anticipated.
“Though the employment report broadly painted a picture of sputtering economic growth, the payrolls decline in August wasn’t as steep as the 105,000 payroll subtraction expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch and eroded market fears about a double-dip recession,” MarketWatch said.
The health care and temporary-staffing industries led an expansion of 67,000 in private-sector employment, but it wasn’t enough to offset the loss of 121,000 government workers.
“The overall picture is one where the labor market is still kind of treading water,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at consultancy MFR Inc., told the New York Times. “It’s better than sinking, but it’s certainly not surging ahead.”
In the same report, the Labor Department upwardly revised its numbers for June and July, suggesting that job creation was slightly stronger over the summer than originally reported.
Chinese Manufacturing Expansion Eases Double-Dip Fears
Chinese manufacturing rebounded in August, easing concerns the economy was heading for a sharp slowdown in the second half of 2010.
“Manufacturing in China, set to become the world’s second-largest economy, rebounded in August, bolstering confidence that the country can propel Asia away from a double-dip recession despite weaknesses in some smaller regional economies,” the Wall Street Journal reported last week.
“The state-affiliated China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said its purchasing managers index (PMI) rose to 51.7 in August from 51.2 July and 52.1 in June. Numbers above 50 show manufacturing activity expanding,” according to the Associated Press. “Another survey, the HSBC China Manufacturing PMI […] rose in August to its highest level in three month, at 51.9.”
Despite encouraging signs of stabilization in the pair of business surveys last week, Reuters noted analysts’ warning that “the robust domestic economy would have to battle the headwinds of soft external demand,” particularly from the U.S. and Europe.
The Asian data came as the eurozone manufacturing PMI was revised slightly higher, last week confirming robust growth in the sector. According to the Financial Times (subscription required), Germany and France “reported by far the fastest increases in output,” while the pace of expansion was “more modest in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.”
Employers Shift Health Care Costs to Workers
Workers on average are paying nearly 14 percent more toward the cost of family health coverage this year than they were in 2009, while employers’ contributions to family coverage showed no increase at all in 2010, according to new findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.
The 2010 Employer Health Benefits Survey, released last week, found that workers on average are paying nearly $4,000 this year toward the cost of family health coverage, up $482 from last year.
“That is the largest annual increase since the survey began in 1999 and a marked change from previous years, when employers generally split the rise in the cost of premiums with their employees,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The average employer contribution to a family plan did not go up at all this year, meaning the entire increase was borne by workers.”
The premium hike occurred even though the total premiums paid by the employer and the employee rose just 3 percent for a family plan — the slowest rate of growth in 10 years — to an average of $13,770, according to the data.
Meanwhile, nearly a third of employers said they either reduced the scope of benefits they are offering this year or increased the amount that workers must pay out of pocket for their medical care.
“With the economy struggling, businesses have been shifting more of the costs of health insurance to workers through premiums, deductibles and other cost-sharing,” Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altmansaid in an announcement of the findings. “This may be helping to stem the rapid rise in premiums that we saw in the early 2000s, but it also means employer coverage is less comprehensive. From a consumer perspective, the cost of health insurance just keeps going up faster than wages.”
The findings are based on a survey of about 2,000 large and small companies between January and May.