For decades, every trend in manufacturing favored the developing world and worked against the United States. But new tools that greatly speed up development from idea to finished product encourage start-up companies to locate here, not in Asia. Could global trade winds finally be blowing toward America again?
Read more. [Image: David Hogsholt]
For a long time, Americans have channeled their fear about China’s factories into an exasperated, four-word refrain: They’re stealing our jobs! By offering low-wage competition to U.S. workers, the Chinese picked off low-end manufacturing work for multinational corporations, whether it was stitching shoes for Nike or assembling iPads for Apple.
In the last few years, though, the anxiety has shifted a bit. Instead of worrying we’ll be undercut on the price of manual labor, the concern is we could actually be out-competed in higher-end markets. You hear it when Democrats like President Obama talk about China winning the race on green jobs. And it came to my mind this week, thanks to a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek on China’s growing prowess in heavy industry.
While China transformed itself into the world’s top exporter by building light goods and electronics, the biggest chunk of its exports are now large, high-margin goods such as ships, locomotives, and construction equipment, as illustrated in the Businessweek graph above.
Not only are China’s capitalists moving in this direction, but they’re getting a hand from the government. As Businessweek reports, “Equipment manufacturing, shipbuilding, and cars are among the industries slated to receive $2.5 billion from the government this year to improve technology and product quality.”
This should be of some concern to U.S. policy makers. Heavy machinery and transportation equipment are at the heart of the U.S. industrial base. They’re part of our Big Six manufacturing sectors, along with food, chemicals, electronics, and metal products. These are businesses where labor is a relatively small part of the overall cost of making the product, and where America’s technologically advanced factories have traditionally given us an edge. If they founder, there’s not much left to replace them.
Read more. [Image: Bloomberg Businessweek]
The chart above, by Michelle Hopgood of the Martin Prosperity Institute, outlines which manufacturing fields are most prevalent based on detailed data on production occupations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. […]
Manufacturing work is important. We should applaud the men and women who do it, and do our best to make it better, more engaging, and higher paying. The best manufacturing jobs today look more like knowledge jobs, involving high levels of analytical and social intelligence skill such as team building and developing others.
But manufacturing will not provide a viable economic future, at least not by itself.
For starters, pay for productions workers is below the national average. Their average pay is $33,700 per year, or $16.24 per hour. That compares to an average of $44,410 across all jobs, or $21.35 per hour.
Even more telling: some manufacturing industries pay much better than others. The 66,530 tool and die makers or the 36,200 aircraft assemblers have great jobs earning - $48,710 and $45,230, respectively. But the nearly 150,000 sewing machine operators average just $22,630 a year, or $10.88 per hour.
The number of manufacturing jobs is also falling quickly, despite the government’s best efforts. Roughly 8.2 million American workers are employed in production jobs. This does not count the 408,000 Americans who work in fishing, forestry, and farming occupations. Add them in and it brings the total to 8.6 million workers, roughly 6.5 percent of America’s total labor force of roughly 127 million. That’s down from roughly a third of the workforce in 1950. And it’s projected to decline further, to about 5 percent, by 2020.
Read more at The Atlantic Cities. [Image: Michelle Hopgood/Martin Prosperity Institute]
One hundred and fifty years ago, around the time Herman Melville was completing Moby Dick, whaling was a booming worldwide business and the United States was the global behemoth. In 1846, we owned 640 whaling ships, more than the rest of the world put together and tripled. At its height, the whaling industry contributed $10 million (in 1880 dollars) to GDP, enough to make it the fifth largest sector of the economy. Whales contributed oil for illuminants, ambergris for perfumes, and baleen, a bonelike substance extracted from the jaw, for umbrellas.
Fifty years later, the industry was dead. Our active whaling fleet had fallen by 90 percent. The industry’s real output had declined to 1816 levels, completing a century’s symmetry of triumph and decline. What happened? And why does what happened still matter?