Does Manufacturing Deserve Special Treatment in the President's Speech?

Does Manufacturing Deserve Special Treatment in the President's Speech?

Factory jobs are far and few between and will not return to former levels.

From 1980 to 2012 across the whole economy, output per hour worked increased 85%. In manufacturing output per hour climbed 189%. 

While this level of productivity increase is admirable, it comes at a cost, according to Charles Kenny, in an article on BloombergBusinessWeek. 

It means that factory jobs are far and few between and will not return to former levels.  Kenny notes that more than half of all people still employed in the U.S. manufacturing sector work in such services as management, technical support, and sales.

It’s this situation that has Kenny questioning the wisdom of placing hope in the manufacturing sector as President Obama is expected to do in tonight’s State of the Union speech.

The president is one of many politicians of both parties as well as pundits who think manufacturing deserves special treatment. But this factory obsession is based on flawed economics. As the Brookings Institute economist Justin Wolfers asked recently, “What’s with the political fetish for manufacturing? Are factories really so awesome?”

Not really—at least not for the U.S. in 2014. Any attempt to draw lessons from the 1950s, when many a high school-educated (white, male) person got a job in a factory and joined the middle class, doesn’t account for the changes in the U.S. and global economy since the middle of the last century. While it’s smart to focus on creating more stable, remunerative jobs, few of them are likely to come from manufacturing.

For more, read Factory Jobs Are Gone. Get Over It on BloombergBusinessWeek.

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