Manufacturing Recovery?

manufacturingBy its nature, the Census gives us information that is a little bit out of date. The most recent publications from the U.S. Census Bureau, including the upcoming special every-five-years Economic Census, use data from 2012 at the latest.

But that doesn’t mean that we should look elsewhere for data. When it comes to thoroughness and sample size, you can’t beat the U.S. Census. A headline saying that U.S. companies are bringing manufacturing jobs back to our shores might be the result of phone interviews with 35 business owners who were asked, “Do you think it would be good if your state had good manufacturing jobs again?”

Census data is more reliable.

And the newest data tells us that manufacturing jobs fell sharply between 2007 and 2012, which is to say during the recession. These jobs fell more than any other industry listed — in fact, other industries in some cases gained jobs. Manufacturing jobs fell by nearly 16%.

Have things changed since then? Possibly. Time reported in 2012 that “The U.S. has added more net manufacturing jobs since the start of 2010 than the rest of the G7 nations put together.” A few months later, the Wall Street Journal reported a 4.3% increase since 2010. By 2013, economists were saying that the decline in U.S. manufacturing paralleled the decline in U.S. agriculture jobs: automation and increasing productivity were causing seismic shifts in the kind of work being done. In August of that year, Bloomberg noted that manufacturing jobs had increased more than expected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown increases in manufacturing jobs nearly every month since then, with a total of 99,000 jobs added in manufacturing in the past year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is highly reliable, too, and updates more often than the Census Bureau, so we probably can conclude that manufacturing in the U.S. is slowly increasing.

Higher productivity and increasing automation mean that manufacturing’s increasing share of the GDP may not translate directly to more jobs — and the skills gap may mean that more jobs in manufacturing may not translate to fewer unemployed Americans. But overall, it looks as though things have been looking up recently.

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