NPR logo Manufacturing's Doing Great. Manufacturing Jobs, Not So Much.


Manufacturing's Doing Great. Manufacturing Jobs, Not So Much.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Orders for goods made in U.S. factories rose in November, according to government figures out today. The numbers are the latest in a string of indicators suggesting that American manufacturing is making a strong comeback from the recession.

But even as sales rise for manufacturers, jobs in manufacturing keep disappearing. The sector shed jobs in every month between July and November last year; over the past few years, millions of manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

This combination of trends — a growing manufacturing sector, and shrinking manufacturing employment — is not a function of the recent recession; it's the result of a long shift toward high-tech manufacturing that goes back decades, and allows U.S. manufacturers to make and sell more while employing fewer people.

But with unemployment at nearly 10 percent, the issue feels particularly acute right now.

Still, even though manufacturing jobs are disappearing, a strong manufacturing sector does bode well for jobs in the rest of the economy. U.S. manufacturers are exporting more stuff, which means more money is flowing from the rest of the world into the U.S.

What's more, as Bloomberg notes, the November numbers released today show a strong rise in orders for goods businesses need to function — things like computers. If this keeps up, we're likely to see the U.S. companies buying those new computers start hiring more people to sit in front of them.