Manufacturing is not, as the conventional wisdom would have it, dead. The United States produces more goods than any other country in the world. No. 2, with many more people, is China.
If manufacturing is not actually dying, what has been in a death spiral is the number of manufacturing jobs, those that have traditionally supported a modest middle-class lifestyle for workers with good hands and limited formal education.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the fastest-declining occupation in the country is team-assembly line worker, perhaps the stereotypical factory job. Since 2000, 378,000 such jobs have disappeared.
Other factory occupations have been hit almost as hard: 215,000 sewing machine operators; 214,000 production supervisory jobs; 186,000 electronic equipment assemblers; 168,000 machine operators -- job losses that are unlikely to come back.
The fastest-growing occupation over the past 10 years, according to BLS, is "food batch makers," but that large-scale food manufacturing specialty grew by only 29,000 jobs, well short of any significant offset to the jobs that disappeared.
This is the collateral damage from a seismic shift in the American economy away from basic manufacturing. Since 2000, manufacturing jobs fell from 17.3 million to 11.8 million last July, a drop of nearly 32 percent.
For what little consolation it is to idled workers, the misery was widespread, with just 694 of the nation's 3,144 counties reporting increases in manufacturing workers since 2000. Most of those amounted to fewer than 100 workers.
As so often happens, the jobs disappeared through no fault of the people who held them. The development of flat-screen TVs killed the demand for locally produced TV tubes. Squeezable plastic condiment bottles doomed the glass bottles and jars produced by the venerable Ball-Foster plant in Grant County, Ind.
For academic economists, capitalism is a process of creative destruction where technologies and skills become obsolete and disappear, to be replaced over time by newer and better occupations and ways of making things.
Our factory workers have had enough of the creative destruction part. They are more than ready for the part where capitalism brings them something newer and better.
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