Trade

3 Ways Of Looking At Manufacturing In America

U.S. manufacturing got hammered in the recession, but it's been coming back strong in recent months.

What about the bigger picture? How's U.S. manufacturing doing in the long-term? It depends on how you look at it. Here are three snapshots.

1. Still the champion.

Inspired by a column in Sunday's Boston Globe, Mark Perry put together this graph as a testament to America's global manufacturing strength. (It includes mining and utilities because it draws from a UN database that bundles together data for manufacturing, mining and utilities).

The graph suggests U.S. manufacturing is doing just fine. So how come it doesn't feel that way?

It's partly because the consumer goods you can buy at the store (clothes, cheap electronics) are indeed typically made overseas. The strength in U.S. manufacturing is in high-end products (airplanes, say, or semi-conductors).

There are a few other, more fundamental reasons that U.S. manufacturing doesn't feel so strong. See (2) and (3) below.

2. A shrinking footprint

Even though U.S. manufacturing has grown in absolute terms, other sectors of the economy have grown much faster. As a result, manufacturing represents a much smaller share of our economy than it did a few generations ago. This graph from Global Macro Monitor compares manufacturing's share of U.S. GDP to the share held by finance, insurance and real estate.

3. Millions of lost jobs

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing, even though the manufacturing sector is making more money. In other words, we have lots of really high-tech factories churning out fancy, complex stuff. But those factories just don't need that many employees. More than five million manufacturing jobs disappeared in the 10 years through December of last year — and most were already gone by the time the financial crisis hit.

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U.S. jobs Jess Jiang/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jess Jiang/NPR
U.S. jobs

U.S. jobs

Jess Jiang/NPR

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