Friday, March 15, 2019

[NJFAC] Manufacturing Job Growth: Let’s Check the Numbers, by Frank Stricker

            The president believes that manufacturing jobs are booming and that he is the reason why. Is he right?  Below are changes in the number of manufacturing  jobs over two-year periods since 2010, when the recovery from the Great Recession began. These numbers are for production and non-supervisory employees, who are 70% of all persons in manufacturing.
                               Increase in Manufacturing Jobs       2011-2019
Jan. 2011 - Jan. 2013
289,000 additional jobs
Jan. 2013 - Jan. 2015
226,000 additional jobs
Jan. 2015 - Jan. 2017
 25,000 additional jobs
Jan. 2017 - Jan. 2019
311,000 additional jobs
            The third two years (2015-2017) were the worst, partly due to a slowdown in the world economy. Economic growth and job additions picked up in 2017 and 2018, in part due to a one-time boost from the Republican tax cut. Other administration policies did not have a net positive effect. New tariffs protect some factories but cause others to lose access to suppliers and spark retaliatory tariffs that hurt workers at exporting factories and farms. And Americans keep buying imports. In 2018, the U.S. trade deficit in goods rose to its highest level ever. That is the opposite of what Donald Trump promised.
            Nor do longer-term numbers give reason for optimism. From 1998 through 2018, the number of manufacturing employees fell by 27%, while the private sector non-farm work force grew by 25.8%. In other words, the manufacturing share plummeted. The most recent decline in manufacturing employment did not start with Obama or the Great Recession. Manufacturing jobs began to contract in 1998, in the midst of an economic boom. They fell twelve years in a row including the good and bad years of the Bush presidency and the Great Recession. A gradual turnaround began in 2010.
            But while manufacturing jobs are growing again, it is foolish to think they will get back to the relative weight they had in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s. Global trends and automation are against it. And the economy may soon falter. Business economists believe that there's a recession on the horizon. Even if they are wrong, manufacturing utopia is not on the horizon. As a thought-experiment, imagine that for the next 6 years we add manufacturing jobs at the same rate as we have added them in 2017 and 2018. In January of 2025 the number of rank-and-file manufacturing workers would be 9,953,000. That's an improvement. But it would only take us back to where we were just before the recession hit.
            We should be happy when there are more good jobs, but we should not fantasize about the number of manufacturing jobs we are adding. Nor about how good the jobs are. It used to be obvious that factory work, much of it unionized, paid better than other occupations. Today that's not so clear. Manufacturing workers' hourly wage in December, 2018, was $21.85. Workers in almost every other sector were paid better, with two exceptions: retail ($16.29) and the leisure and hospitality sector ($14.19).
            It is an understatement to say that people should be skeptical of Mr. Trump's anecdotes about this or that factory expansion. Certainly, the modest expansion of manufacturing jobs currently under way cannot provide the number of good new jobs that are required to lift the struggling half of the working class.
            If you were a president who wanted to make a real difference, here are two things you could do: push for a government program that directly creates good jobs for people in distressed communities who will be hired to improve their communities; and push to lift pay for all low-wage workers. Support for the Democratic Raise the Wage Act of 2019 is an absolute minimum. It aims only to get the federal minimum to $15 by 2024. For a full-time, year-round worker that would be an annual, pre-tax income of $31,200--a lift for many people but not enough. No matter what the Census Bureau says, that amount is poverty for families. And incidentally, $15 ain't what it used to be when it became the banner goal of the minimum wage movement. It will have lost a couple of dollars in purchasing power by 2024.
Frank Stricker is a board member of the National Jobs for All Network and emeritus professor of history and labor studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Most of the statistical information in the essay is at Also useful: Justin Fox, "Farewell to the Blue-Collar Elite," April 6, 2015, accessed February 21, 2019, at; Lawrence Mishel, "Yes, Manufacturing Still Provides a Pay Advantage, but Staffing Firm Outsourcing is Eroding It," March 12, 2018, Economic Policy Institute,; and Nelson D. Schwartz, "Cold Hearts on the Furnace Line," New York Times, August 12, 2018, about job insecurity at the Carrier plant in Indiana.

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