Despite Job Loss, U.S. Manufacturing Still Leads On Friday, the Labor Department released more grim news: Another 663,000 jobs disappeared last month. That sent the unemployment rate up to 8.5 percent. This recession has been especially hard on people who work in factories. Since the recession began in December 2007, U.S. companies have wiped out 1.5 million manufacturing jobs. Yet the U.S. remains by far the world's leading manufacturer, as measured by value of goods produced.
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Despite Job Loss, U.S. Manufacturing Still Leads

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Despite Job Loss, U.S. Manufacturing Still Leads

Despite Job Loss, U.S. Manufacturing Still Leads

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

On Friday, the Labor Department released more grim news. Another 663,000 jobs disappeared last month. That sent the unemployment rate up to 8.5 percent. This recession has been especially hard on people who work in factories. Since the recession began in December 2007, 1.5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. Here to talk to us about the state of manufacturing in this country is Marilyn Geewax, NPR's senior business editor. First, tell us, is there a crisis in manufacturing employment?

MARILYN GEEWAX: Absolutely. Factory jobs have been disappearing at a furious rate. In the past decade we've lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs and last month alone we lost another 161,000. The scary thing is we know that there will be more job losses coming because the Obama administration is planning to cut spending for weapons programs. That's going to trigger the loss of thousands of jobs in defense-related industries in New England especially.

WERTHEIMER: With all these job losses, does that mean the end of the United States as a manufacturing power?

GEEWAX: This may be surprising to some people, but we tend to forget that we're still by far the world's biggest manufacturer. China is a distant third after Japan. In this country we produce $5 trillion worth of goods every year, and we still have something like 13 million people working in factories in this country. The thing to remember is that we're less than five percent of the world's population, but we're still producing 20 percent of all the goods manufactured in the world.

WERTHEIMER: You know, I think consumers have a different picture of it because so many of the products you pick up to buy say, made in China, made in Bolivia, made in Korea.

GEEWAX: That's what's so deceptive is the things that we see that are right at our eye level are clothes, toys, electronics, the things we look at in our homes, those things are, in fact, for the most part, are produced overseas. What we manufacture are heavy things, chemicals, industrial machinery, metal products, missiles, tractors. You look at your kid's shirt and you see, made in China, but you don't see that it says, made in the USA, on a communications satellite in outer space.

WERTHEIMER: So if we make all of these amazing goods, why are we losing so many factory jobs?

GEEWAX: One thing to remember is this is just a bad recession, it's terrible. Even fundamentally sound companies like Caterpillar and Boeing have to lay off workers because demand's just down for everything all over the world. Second, we have technological changes, and remember, that what we keep trying to do is get labor-saving devices. Well, when you put in new labor-saving technology, what you do is cut jobs. So we become more productive, but we lose jobs.

And then the third thing that's happening is globalization. Goods are going to keep being made overseas. If something is easy to make, like gloves, and brooms and bolts, they're going to be continued to be made in factories in other countries. The key for U.S. policymakers is make sure that when this recession does end, U.S. companies that make the sophisticated products like missiles and aircraft, that those companies can bounce back.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. Thanks very much.

GEEWAX: You're welcome.

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