Manufacturing jobs, not output, have left U.S.

In 2001, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson published a book titled "Untruth: Why the Conventional Wisdom is (Almost Always) Wrong."

In his Post column April 7, he attacked a familiar piece of conventional wisdom that we all hold near and dear — that our manufacturing economy is largely gone and its successor, a service economy, is not nearly as good.

All myth, says Samuelson.

Citing a Congressional Research Service report, Samuelson argues that U.S. manufacturing output is still the largest in the world, still slightly ahead of China and three times larger than Germany.

Our manufacturing output is now 72 percent higher than in 1990 and six times larger than in 1950.

The work is still being done, but there are far fewer people employed doing it. Far fewer. In 1970 we had 17.8 million manufacturing jobs and we now have about 12 million.

Samuelson cites the steel industry as an example. Today it employs 97,000 workers but produces 10 percent more steel than 399,000 workers did in 1980.

What's gone are millions of factory floor jobs. Today one third of all manufacturing jobs are for managers and professionals, he writes.

To Samuelson, we have replaced "exhausting, dangerous or boring jobs" with higher-paying technical and professional positions.

This has happened in all advanced nations, he says, but "there is plenty of industry left in post-industrial America."

All of which is reassuring to know as an American, especially if you are already a highly skilled professional or technical worker.

But the transition has been brutal for places like Maine, places dependent on heavy industry, manufacturing, agriculture, logging and fishing.

Samuelson glosses over the decades of suffering and dislocation that resulted as manufacturing jobs left places like Maine, or were replaced by automation.

Entire communities, even large metro areas like Detroit, have been decimated in the transition.

In Maine, we are still struggling to not only attract higher-paying manufacturing and service-sector jobs, but to retrain our workforce.

Samuelson also fails to explain how if things are so much better for workers, why has income growth been declining or stagnant for most workers for several decades.

The only income growth in the U.S. has been at the tip top of the wage pyramid.

The model for the new economy can be found in Lewiston-Auburn and in Western Maine.

Manufacturing companies here seem to be begging for more highly skilled technical workers, and Gov. Paul LePage is intent on filling that gap.

The TD Bank commitment to Lewiston and the Bates Mill complex is an outstanding example of how a factory for bedspreads can be turned into a "factory" producing skilled business services.

Employment in the once abandoned mill building has climbed to 800 people since 1998 and TD has signed a lease through 2025.

Few if any of those workers would want to change places with their ancestors who tended the looms on those floors.

The reality in all this is that while some manufacturing jobs are thankfully returning to the U.S., our economy has entered a different era and there is no going back.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Consumers

Manufacturing doesn't exist in a vacuum. It depends on consumers. There have never been more consumers now that third world economies are creating working classes. The economies of the future will be forged by new inventions, discoveries and products. I think two things would put Americans in the running for a slice of the prosperity pie keeping in mind that we are now sharing it with countries like China, India, Brazil, etc. One is an educated workforce. I do not mean a trained workforce because when you train youngsters for a career these days it disappears by the time they are ready to join the workforce or has been totally reinvented. We need people who can think. We also need to provide a nurturing environment for enterpreneurs. They have the energy, the resourcefulness and the courage to come up with new enterprises. There has never been a greater opportunity for people who can think and who are resourceful and committed with the advent of the internet. We also need to come up with a new social order that provides meaningful work and rewards for people not involved in manufacturing or sales who contribute to the welfare of the community through work in food production, medecine, safety, education, sanitation, health, child care, elderly care, disabled assistance. disaster relief etc. We need all these workers but the question is how and what to pay them.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Wow, we need a new social

Wow, we need a new social order, how Machiavellian.

Yet you voted in a President who attacks success... good luck.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Success?

Actually I had to choose between one of two options. I chose to vote against feudalism. Somehow that option did not seem like progress to me. We need a drastic change to the tax code, I agree, but one that promotes prosperity for the many not one that dumps it all in the same no-bid contract, pork barrel, global financier, corporate pockets and we need social policies that promote equality and justice not disenfranchisement and cronyism. Call that Machialvellian if you want but in my limited knowledge of his policies I do not see those goals.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

-- no-bid contract -- pork

-- no-bid contract
-- pork barrel
-- global financier
-- corporate pockets
-- cronyism.

Would not a smaller government, as defined as less people and money in the hands of the corrupt, fix most of this problem.
I find it sad that many people look to the same people who are causing these problems to find a solution. Like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

Jeff Kelley's picture

nice try

You may think everything is sweet in L.A but there is no work here just service jobs, the shoe shops are gone and all the company's who serviced them are all but gone, there are no major manufacturing plants to speak of except a few and they are doing more with less people and are prone to layoff's then of course you have your bloodsucking temporary services who are employed by what manufacturing company's that are left.You are right about one thing the good old days of filling out an application and being hired without having to go to these bloodsuckers are over, god help us we are all one paycheck away from being homeless, oh of course if you are of a certain group who will be unnamed you get your rent paid all medical and last but not least the old EBT card and money every month to sit on your ass and do nothing. but not to worry there are still enough of us who go to work every day to support your sorry ass.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Those good old days were gone

Those good old days were gone 20 years ago if not longer.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Manufacturing jobs, not output, have left U.S.

Rex, 13.08.11 18:52 hst •
Excellent analysis ? Macroeconomic 1 0 1
Manufacturing jobs ( i.e., toothpicks , palletts , mouse traps & shoes + boots ) , not output ( i.e., professional and technical workers and techniques ) , have left U.S. and Maine and i used to make palletts for Bob Brackett in Leeds .
Banks , insurance comapnies , computers , colleges and universities , even hohospitals and security are all service industries to a great extent
Wisconsin produces more wood product than ME and more cranberries than MA -- facts • ME is like HI - Vacationland & the hospitality industy
Your Hon. Governor tends to suggest 19th century solutions to 21st century problems , unfortunately for you . .and you , too . btw - AARP ® ranks ME as top five bad for retirées , baby boomers . PA is even better
ME will retain and train your young people when you Main'ahs realize these truths
Your population has been similar to Hawai'i's since ? 1 9 0 0 according to the U S census reaminig steady at about 1,250.000 inhabitants
Yet , back then , our's ( HI ) was about 200,000 and we weren't even a state
Get's c o l d up they'ya ?  Keep up the good works LSJ ® 
/s , Steve , a former http://www.brookings.org analyst

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Perhaps you should get rid of

Perhaps you should get rid of your socialized policies in HI; it is just too damn expensive to live in HI because the state wants too much form the workers.

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