In the recent presidential election, Donald Trump said in the final debate, “We don’t make our product anymore. It’s very sad.” He then said, “We’ve given up.”
We did give up, in the 1990s when those comments by President Trump would have been applicable. Back then we simply could not compete in the manufacturing arena with China. Today, we compete very favorably with every country in the world, including China and Mexico, for new and expanded manufacturing industries.
In an article published by CNN Money in the fall quarter, Chad Moutray, chief economist with the National Association of Manufacturers, was quoted as saying, “We produce more today than we ever have. We made $2.1 trillion worth of products in 2015.” In fact, in the first quarter of 2016, the value of goods made in America reached a record high. That means that we are experiencing the most productive period in manufacturing history in this country.
Today, U.S.-based factories — both foreign-owned and domestic — are making almost five times more product than in the 1950s and ‘60s, and we are doing it with many less manufacturing workers. That’s where people can get confused about the manufacturing sector and its performance in the U.S. The job losses are important, but misleading.
In 1979, manufacturing employment peaked with 19.6 million workers.
Today that figure is about 12.4 million, but it is growing, not falling, for the first time in more than two decades. Since the end of the recession, the U.S. manufacturing sector has added more than 800,000 jobs, about 40 percent of those in the South. And compared to 1960 when one in four Americans had a job in manufacturing, today only one in 10 work in the sector.
The best way to understand advanced manufacturing today is to look at the history of the farm workforce in this country. In 1880, roughly 50 percent of Americans worked on a farm. Today, that figure is below 2 percent. The reason is the same for jobs lost in the manufacturing sector; automation on the farm and on the factory floor have reduced both workforces.