Is last month’s manufacturing job increase a trend or a blip?
Monday, December 10, 2018
While the glory days of manufacturing jobs are gone, and globalization has fundamentally shifted the production terrain abroad, November’s job numbers show U.S. manufacturing jobs are on the rise. Is this a trend?
Since November 2016, manufacturing jobs have increased by 189,000. Generally, 228,000 new jobs appeared in November 2018, with 27,000 in manufacturing. 15,000 of these jobs are in durable goods and 12,000 in non-durable goods.
These productive statistics conflict with the tone set two weeks ago when 14,700 GM employees heard they might be relocated or laid off from GM facilities in the U.S. and Canada. President Trump blanketly condemned GM’s move. GM workers have protested the move, and the United Auto Workers are fighting the decision.
Trump also vowed to take away the company’s subsidies, including an electric vehicle tax credit incentive of $7,500. Abolition of this credit would save $20 billion over 10 years. GM is fighting this.
Along with Nissan and Tesla, GM not only wants to keep this incentive, but extend it. Under federal law, companies can only extend the tax credit to the first 200,000 electric vehicles off the assembly line. (What if they lifted this incentive cap on electric cars, increased vehicle production to over 200,000, and kept employees?)
Let’s use GM as a symbolic example of U.S. manufacturing’s identity crisis. Emerging technologies have companies like GM speaking of transitioning to cleaner energy, but also laying off workers; most workers with stable jobs would applaud companies’ green initiatives.
How can the general manufacturing industry, including autos, transition to cleaner energy and efficiency without eliminating jobs in the process?
In the 1970’s, 19.5 million Americans held manufacturing jobs, while today it’s only 12.4 million. In October 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that manufacturing would be down to 11.6 million jobs by 2026.
Part of this speculated decline is due to China’s massive manufacturing presence, and some of its due to automation. Also, labor and natural resources are still cheaper outside the U.S.
We are just beginning to see how labor and manufacturing jobs fit into a cleaner energy agenda.
If companies are increasingly going green, then perhaps the BLS foresees a future with less manufacturing jobs because the greener, high-tech automated future is not only driver-free, it’s also worker-free. These are some issues currently on the table in the manufacturing world.
It’s hard to know what will happen in the future. GM, as a mere example of manufacturing conundrums, embraces both Tesla’s techno-utopian aspirations and its bad reputation with employees.
Trump, as a mere example of presidential conundrums, flexes his muscle for the GM workers, and threatens an electric vehicle purchasing incentive in the process — impairing working families again.
Precarious manufacturing days are still here. Whether we are seeing a steady recovery from manufacturing jobs lost in the Great Recession or an overall decline is unclear. 1.2 million manufacturing jobs were lost between 2007 and 2017. While the BLS predicts less manufacturing jobs by 2026, it will take this long to economically recover what’s been lost this past decade if we are truly in recovery mode at all.
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