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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/27/19

More Good Factory Jobs? What Do the Numbers Say?

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Message Frank Stricker

During the Great Recession, manufacturing-job totals began to recover in mid-2010. In the decade that followed, we added 1.3 million jobs to factory totals. Sounds good. All other things being equal, having more regular jobs is a plus.

But not all factory jobs are good ones. Some are poorly paid and very dangerous; for example, in meatpacking. The average hourly wage of non-supervisory and production employees in manufacturing was only $22.24 last month. While $22.24 is way above the federal minimum wage, it is not so high. It is even below $23.65, the average hourly wage of rank-and-file workers in all private non-farm businesses. And of course a lot of factory workers earn less than the average.

As to job totals, there has not been a very large increase in factory positions. It is true that during much of Donald Trump's presidency, job growth has been somewhat faster than during Obama's second term. But not hugely so. And now the manufacturing sector is in a recession. There's been essentially no job growth in 2019.

In a longer perspective, we have not come very far. Even after a decade of increases, the total number of all employees in manufacturing is about where it was in December of 1941. As numbers and charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show, there have been no substantial and lasting surges since the '60s. The World War II economy boosted job numbers to a new, jagged plateau. Then the war-assisted economy of the 1960s lifted job totals to another, higher, jagged plateau. But jobs fell off the plateau in the early 1980s, and another plunge began in the last years of the Clinton boom. That descent continued through the Bush presidency and the Great Recession, and almost none of it has been reversed.

Causes and policy effects are topics for another time, but in brief, automation is a factor in job loss as are trade treaties that make it easy for importers and profitable for U.S. companies to send production overseas. It's doubtful that President Trump's tariff policies have helped much. Jumpy, poorly conceived policies confuse and unsettle business planners, investors, and trading partners. And for the most part, tariffs on Chinese products send Chinese factory jobs not to the U.S., but to other Asian countries and even to Mexico.

There's more on factory economics, policies, and politics in a terrific article: Don Lee, "Industrial Sector Enters a Recession," Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2019, Business Section, C1, C3.


Frank Stricker is a board member of the National Jobs For All Network and emeritus professor of history at California State University, Dominguez Hills. His views are his own and not those of either organization.


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Emeritus Professor of History, Labor and Interdisciplinary Studies, California State University, Dominguez Hills; board member of National Jobs for All Network.
Author of American Unemployment: Past, Present, and Future (University of (more...)

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