The coronavirus pandemic initially took a toll on manufacturing employment, as shutdowns forced waves of temporary layoffs, including at local steel mills and factories.

It also resulted in supply chain disruptions that put more people temporarily out of work, including at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant on the far South Side and its suppliers, including the Lear Corp. seat factory in Hammond.

But factories added 29,000 jobs in June, finally restoring manufacturing employment back to its pre-pandemic level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The manufacturing sector, a pillar of Northwest Indiana's heavily industrialized economy, is now 12,000 above its February 2020 level.

"Two of the bright spots in the economy have been the steady growth in manufacturing jobs and new major plant announcements. June continued that trend," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a collaboration between the United Steelworkers union and leading manufacturing companies. "The factory sector has now recovered all of the jobs shed during the pandemic-induced recession, making this a unicorn recovery. Manufacturing jobs have never bounced back from a recession this well."

Average hourly earnings for manufacturing employees stayed steady at $30.86 an hour in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Production workers saw their pay increase by 5 cents to $25 an hour.

Production workers' average workweek fell to 40.9 hours, a decrease of 0.3 hour as compared to the previous month.

Manufacturing employment remains 19,000 below its recent peak in July 2019.

"But some obstacles stand in the way of future growth. It would be shortsighted to remove tariffs on imports from China — Beijing hasn’t earned relief, reshoring could pause, and even retailers acknowledge consumers wouldn’t see lower prices," Paul said. "And Congress should not allow competitiveness legislation to stall. The rest of the world is moving ahead to bolster supply chains. We can’t afford to get left behind."
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