Can manufacturing really fix the economy?

By John Clark
Published: July 1st, 2013

Over the weekend, an article caught my attention, focusing as it did on the state of manufacturing and its role in the U.S. economy. With all the talk of offshoring, reshoring, nearshoring, the skills gap, and the diminishing role of manufacturing, and manufacturing jobs, in U.S. there are any number of takes on the subject. It's hard to keep up.

This article, however, was particularly interesting in that it turned to plastics manufacturing operations, notably Nypro and Atrium Medical, to delve into a discussion about the kinds of jobs that characterize modern manufacturing.

And I also learned a new bit of jargon: the "high-road" approach to employment.

I won't try to give everything away. You can read the article here: "No, manufacturing jobs won't save the economy".

I'll be curious to hear the thoughts of readers. As we know, manufacturing, while trendy and important to talk about, has suffered from diminished prestige in recent years, particularly in the U.S. Part of this is due to the changing nature of the economy and the sorts of jobs and industries that are taking over.

But the question that lies hidden in talk of well-paying manufacturing jobs is whether or not they're actually all that well-paying any more, and whether the negative perception of manufacturing isn't also influenced by the notion that they're not the same sort of jobs that throughout America's post-war boom a worker could support a family on.

When we talk about manufacturing, what we see in this article, I think, goes to the heart of an issue that needs to be discussed.

No votes yet

I think policy makers are

I think policy makers are trying find jobs anywhere they can, and manufacturing is as likely a target as any.

Housing and automotive activity seem to be back to pre-Great Recession levels, but unemployment is still lagging. Per BLS:

In December 2007, the national unemployment rate was 5.0 percent, and it had been at or below that rate for the previous 30 months. At the end of the recession, in June 2009, it was 9.5 percent. In the months after the recession, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.0 percent in October 2009.

We're still at 7.6%.

Can we get to 5.0% with manufacturing..? Hard to say, and as you point out, if we do, will those new manufacturing employees be making a living wage?

I think perhaps we can, if

I think perhaps we can, if demand picks up. I think we can if Americans accept that the trade-off for perhaps paying a little more for something made-in-America helps everyone, including themselves.

What I wonder is whether being "cost-competitive" of necessity means more automation, limiting the number of jobs a manufacturing renaissance would create.

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