Trade

Manufacturing Profits Came Back. Manufacturing Jobs Didn't.

Manufacturing industry profits hit a new high in the first quarter of this year, according to numbers out this week from the Census Bureau.

But the huge recovery for profits hasn't done much to bring back the millions of jobs the industry has shed since the start of the recession.

Jobs and profits in manufacturing i i
Jess Jiang/NPR
Jobs and profits in manufacturing
Jess Jiang/NPR

One striking thing about this graph: Manufacturing profits are clearly cyclical, rising and falling with the broader economy. Manufacturing jobs, on the other hand, disappear during recessions and don't come back during economic expansions.

U.S. manufacturing has gone high-tech, with more machines and fewer people. This is not a cyclical thing. The pattern started well before the recession, and we've talked about it before.

A recent story in the NYT had what may be the perfect quote on this theme:

"I want to have as few people touching our products as possible," said Dan Mishek, managing director of Vista Technologies in Vadnais Heights, Minn. "Everything should be as automated as it can be. We just can't afford to compete with countries like China on labor costs, especially when workers are getting even more expensive."

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