This is the time of year when we pay particular attention to the amount of momentum we observe in the trends in the economy, the manufacturing sector and the plastics industry.
Momentum is always a crucial factor in our businesses, which is why I often include rate of change graphs with this column. These graphs are good indicators of momentum in the underlying data. But in the fourth quarter our collective focus on momentum is ratcheted up a notch. It is a long-practiced characteristic of our species to try to finish the year up strong and carry the momentum into the new year. This is the reason our pagan ancestors created religious observances around the Winter Solstice, and it is why we celebrate New Year's Eve to this day.
I expect this particular fourth quarter will be the most closely scrutinized of all time. Not only will it be the end of the year, but also this country has never experienced the conflicting forces we currently face. Due to the pandemic, there is a tremendous amount of pent-up consumer demand for celebrating. But the pandemic has also created an unprecedented bottleneck in the nation's supply chain.
Make no mistake, Americans will figure out a way to celebrate and spend their money. The influx of foreign tourists now allowed to travel to the U.S. will augment this energy. So, I have confidence the overall holiday spending numbers will be robust when compared with the data from the fourth quarter of last year.
The question for me this year is, "What will they buy?" And the follow-up question is, "What does this mean for the coming year?" At this point, I am confident that immense amounts of money will be spent, a lot of people will be hired and the rate of inflation will continue to escalate in the next few weeks. For those keeping score, the Consumer Price Index posted a very large increase in October.
But how do I factor all of this into an outlook for 2022, especially for the manufacturing sector and the plastics industry?
We have already seen unexpected shifts in the patterns of the U.S. labor force. One of the most vexing problems of the past year for the manufacturing sector has been hiring workers. This problem is not unique to manufacturers, but this makes the matter more puzzling for me. For all of my lifetime, manufacturing jobs were "good jobs." Nevertheless, many of these good jobs are currently unfilled despite the fact that there seems to be able bodies in the labor pool that could fill them.
Fortunately, there is evidence this problem is abating. For those of you looking for a graph to enhance your respective celebrations of this season — that always works for me — I offer another rate of change chart. This graph shows the momentum in the total number of people employed by U.S. manufacturing establishments.