You would have had to live under a rock for the past year to not hear the political posturing about U.S. manufacturing jobs. The President has promised to bring back. manufacturing jobs. Candidate Clinton had a “Make it in America” plan with effectively the same aim.
The campaign rhetoric might lead you to think that manufacturing jobs are a new focus for politicians. But that’s not at all true. Previous administrations have noticed the steady decline in manufacturing employment – about 35% of all U.S. non-farm workers were employed in manufacturing in 1945. By 2010, that figure had dropped to about 9%. (For amusement, one can do a linear regression of this declining jobs-vs.-time relationship to find out when the last manufacturing job might leave the U.S. When we did this analysis, we came up with zero-percent U.S. manufacturing jobs around the year 2033.) So through the years, there has been a lot of governmental hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth about these trends.
For an illustration of what’s transpired inside the bowels of government over manufacturing employment, consider a 2014 report written by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. It is filled with mushy prose and not exactly what you would say is a stirring call to action. Reading through one of its many “recommendations,” one has a hard time getting a sense as to what might occur if the recommended actions were taken. For example, it is hard to see what would actually happen if we established “a national strategy for securing U.S. advantage in emerging manufacturing technologies.” Ditto for providing “coordinated private-sector input on national advanced manufacturing technology research and development priorities.”
However, there is one point in the report that is clear. The President’s advisors suggested launching “a national campaign to change the image of manufacturing.” Finally, a straightforward goal: Not only develop manufacturing jobs, but also convince people they would actually want to take those jobs.
But if you are a bureaucrat, there is a hazard in devising plans that are clear. Someone might measure the results and call you to account. And if remarks made in the popular media are any indication, we’d have to say the President’s Council got a failing grade on rehabilitating the image of manufacturing.
Consider the comments from the head of a Minnesota recruitment firm who said she has trouble finding candidates for manufacturing jobs because “parents … think that manufacturing is dirty and grimy.….They don’t want their kids working in that kind of environment. So, they don’t encourage their kids to go into manufacturing.”
Then there is this from, believe it or not, an HR site: “Nobody wants those crummy Trump jobs. Those jobs suck. Have you ever worked in a factory? Do you have a family member who’s lost a finger or a hand in a mill accident? Don’t we have higher hopes for our talented citizens?”
Finally, there is this comment posted in response to another article on manufacturing employment: “Manufacturing jobs are overrated anyway. Hot, stinky environments with (sic) highly strenuous.”
The piece this writer was responding to was itself a sign of the times. It quoted New Frontier Data, a firm which reports on the cannabis industry, as projecting that marijuana-related jobs will outpace manufacturing jobs in the U.S. by 2020.
Let’s hope our leaders can get their act together to promote U.S. manufacturing. I, for one, would hate to see New Frontier Data’s “heady” prediction come true.