WASHINGTON (AP) — American factories are humming — and driving the economy forward.
Manufacturers have been hiring more consistently than other employers, for jobs with better-than-average pay. They just had their best month of growth in five years. And more factory output has raised demand in some other industries, such as shipping, leading to further hiring.
"The manufacturing sector is on a tear," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.
It's an optimistic theme that serves President Barack Obama's political needs. On Wednesday, Obama traveled to Milwaukee to salute a company that brought jobs back to the United States. The president has promoted the nation's manufacturing base as an engine of growth and as evidence of a recovering economy.
No one thinks manufacturing will return to its 1950s peak. After all, the factory sector now makes up barely one-tenth of the economy.
But since the recession ended more than 2½ years ago, factories have been contributing disproportionately to the recovery in hiring and the overall economy.
A big reason, economists say, is that individuals and businesses are making major purchases they delayed during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Consumers are buying more cars and appliances. Companies are investing in industrial machinery and computers.
The release of that pent-up demand gives manufacturing a kick that isn't visible in some other corners of theeconomy. Manufacturing was hit particularly hard by the recession. Consumers postponed purchases of cars, refrigerators and flat-screen TVs, even as they continued to visit doctors, get haircuts and pay utility bills.
"Manufacturing has punched above its weight, but that's because it was punched in the stomach in the recession," Michael Montgomery, a senior economist at IHS Global Insight, said.
Factory output got off to a robust start this year, and it ended last year with the fastest growth in five years, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.
Those were the best back-to-back monthly performances since summer 2009, when the recession ended, according to Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse.
Manufacturing is delivering an outsize benefit to the economy in key ways:
About 9 percent of the nation's jobs are in manufacturing. But last year, factories added 13 percent of new jobs. And in January, about one-fifth of the 243,000 net jobs the economy created were in manufacturing.
Factory growth has also helped to increase hiring in other industries such as shipping, warehousing, department store sales and auto sales. Railroad operators such as Union Pacific have stepped up hiring as their shipments of cars, machinery and other equipment have climbed.
The hiring has boosted struggling Midwestern states such as Ohio and Michigan, which will likely be battleground states in the presidential election.
George Mokrzan, an economist at Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bank, said those two states have added a greater percentage of jobs since the recession ended than the nation as a whole.
To Read more about manufacturing: http://www.manufacturing.net/news/2012/02/manufacturers-providing-boost-to-us-economy
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