The US lost 10% of its manufacturing jobs during 2001 and 2002, according to Labor Department figures. Another 16,000 jobs in manufacturing disappeared last month, the 30th consecutive month of declining manufacturing employment. Moreover, manufacturing employment is likely to continue to decline even after the economy gets firmly back on its feet, executives and economists told Dow Jones in a recent report.
The months of consecutive decline have dwindled the number of Americans employed by manufacturing companies to 16.4 million workers, or roughly 12% of working Americans. Comparatively, state and local governments now employ 2 million more workers than all of the nation’s manufacturers combined. Later this year, healthcare workers probably will outnumber production workers in manufacturing.
Recessions have always been difficult for factory workers, as manufacturers chop output to reduce inventories and adjust to lower demand for their products. Consequently, manufacturing payrolls declined from 35% of total workers shortly after World War II, to 25% in the mid-1970s, 20% in the early 1980s and today’s 12%.
Bang For the Buck
Despite the nation’s huge trade gap, US factories cranked out 30% more goods last year than they did 10 years earlier, according to Labor Department figures. But they needed 8% fewer worker hours to do it. Manufacturing productivity rose by 42% during the decade, far outpacing gains elsewhere in the economy.
With these number, trends toward greater technological advancement and shorter working hours are not about to retreat. Engineers who install automated equipment say most of the nation’s factories have just scratched the surface in employing technology to raise output per hour, the Dow Jones story said.