by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is true that the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been in steep decline for almost a half-century, but manufacturing employment disguises the true story of American manufacturing. U.S. manufacturing output has increased by almost 40 percent. Annual value added by U.S. factories has reached a record $2.4 trillion. To put that in perspective, if our manufacturing sector were a separate nation, it would be the seventh richest nation on the globe.
Daniel Griswold’s Los Angeles Times article tells the story: “Globalization isn’t killing factory jobs. Trade is actually why manufacturing is up 40 percent.” Griswold is senior research fellow and co-director of the Program on the American Economy and Globalization at George Mason University-based Mercatus Center. He says what has changed in recent decades is that our factories produce fewer shirts, shoes, toys and tables. Instead, America’s 21st-century manufacturing sector is dominated by petroleum refining, pharmaceuticals, plastics, fabricated metals, machinery, computers and other electronics, motor vehicles and other transportation equipment, and aircraft and aerospace equipment.
Griswold suggests that political anger about lost manufacturing jobs should be aimed at technology, not trade. According to a recent study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, productivity growth caused 85 percent of the job losses in manufacturing from 2000 to 2010, a period that saw 5.6 million factory jobs disappear. In that same period, international trade accounted for a mere 13 percent of job losses.
Manufacturing job loss is a worldwide phenomenon. Charles Kenny, writing in Bloomberg, “Why Factory Jobs Are Shrinking Everywhere,” points out manufacturing employment has fallen in Europe and Korea and “one of the largest losers of manufacturing jobs has been China.”
While job loss can be traumatic for the individual who loses his job, for the nation job loss often indicates economic progress. In 1790, farmers were 90 percent of the U.S. labor force. By 1900, about 41 percent of our labor force was employed in agriculture. Today, less than 3 percent of Americans are employed in agriculture. What would Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton have done in the face of this precipitous loss of agricultural jobs? They might have outlawed all of the technological advances in science and machinery that have made our farmers the world’s most productive and capable of producing the world’s cheapest food.