During the past two decades the United States has lost about 5 million manufacturing jobs. There is an understandable nostalgia for “the good old days”, as those represent jobs with decent pay and benefits for workers without a college degree. Today, the average factory worker earns more than $25 an hour before overtime; the typical retail worker makes less than $18 an hour. Two decades ago the U.S. had 3.5 million more workers in manufacturing than in retail; today that differential is almost exactly reversed.
The gap is widening, as there are four new retail jobs for every new manufacturing job. Ironically, “reshoring” has returned many factories back to the U.S. — but they are smart factories, heavy in automation and light in old-school factory jobs. As the graph below depicts, manufacturing output has increased 20% since the recession ended in 2009, but manufacturing employment is up only 5%. Factories may come back; the jobs, not so much.
Should America Focus on Bringing Back Manufacturing Jobs? Why?