It is trendy to speak of bringing back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Almost every politician on the stump does so.
“Manufacturing is coming back. It’s now our challenge to figure out how …. we can have a renaissance in manufacturing,” says one presidential candidate. “We’re going to bring our jobs back. We’re not going to be losing our jobs to Mexico and all of these other places,” says another. “Look around Indiana and you will find once vibrant and strong manufacturing towns ……..shattered by abandoned factories, shut down steel mills, sky-high poverty rates and foreclosed homes…We need to end the race to the bottom and enact trade policies that demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad,” says a third.
So can we really expect more U.S. manufacturing jobs if one of these blowhards get elected?
Doubtful. Here’s what’s more likely to happen, based on forecasts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Production occupations will have little or no growth for at least five years. Employment for manufacturing is projected to decline 4.6% by 2022. The BLS attributes declines in manufacturing employment in part to foreign competition, but mainly to improvements in efficiency.
And better education, another favorite topic of presidential candidates, is unlikely to change this picture much. The large majority of production jobs typically require a high school degree or less, the BLS points out. The few manufacturing occupations requiring a postsecondary education are all projected to have declining employment.
The romantic notion that the American working class can someday be made up of well-paid factory workers is about as plausible as the Cleveland Browns winning this year’s Super Bowl. The reality is that most occupations in the U.S. categorized as “working class” are not well paid, and that situation won’t change for the foreseeable future.
Individuals who don’t have to campaign for votes are more prone than politicians to admit this reality. One in that camp is Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Research at think tank called Demos. “While America’s public intellectuals wax eloquently, and even idolize, the innovation and ideation done by tech workers, the reality (is) that most Americans actually work in a bargain-basement economy…..Today, the U.S. has one of the highest percentages of working people earning low-wages—one out of four employed Americans—of 26 advanced countries surveyed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.” she says.
Draut is right. The BLS expects the occupations that will grow the most in the next few years will be mostly in the low-wage category. They include office managers, home health care workers, food prep workers, janitors, and construction-related jobs. The only high-growth job category demanding a post-secondary education is healthcare, where the BLS envisions a mushrooming need for nurses.
So when you hear campaign rhetoric in the upcoming months about helping the working class, bear in mind who politicians are really talking about: Not people who work in factories. That is a vestige of a by-gone era. Today’s working class largely consists of individuals for whom a bump in the minimum wage brings a meaningful improvement in life style. And that situation is unlikely to change regardless of who takes the oath of office in January.
Filed Under: Commentary • expert insight