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Manufacturing jobs just ain’t what they used to be

In my never-ending quest to wrap my head around workforce data despite no background or training whatsoever, I’ve been playing around with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) web site. But first a quick look at General Motors (GM)!  [click on all images for larger versions]


General Motors has a shrinkage issue

As many of you know, GM has been in the news lately as it faces possible bankruptcy proceedings. The image below shows the shrinkage of GM’s workforce over a generation.

Combine this image with all of the other news on the U.S. automobile industry and it’s easy to see that automotive jobs in America, at least as they’ve traditionally been configured, often are a loser’s game due to lower costs and, often, higher quality overseas.

Hey, how are we supposed to make a living?

Below are two charts that I made after diving deep into the BLS Industries At A Glance data, particularly the historical trend data. The first chart shows that the number of employees in the professional and business services, financial activities, and education and health services supersectors grew substantially over the past three decades. In contrast, the manufacturing supersector has lost over a third of its employees and those job losses show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Of course the education and skills needed for these growth sectors of the American economy are different and/or higher than those needed for most manufacturing jobs. FYI, the data points are from the month of April for each year.

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The second chart shows the average increase in real earnings since 1980, broken out by labor supersector and adjusted for inflation. As you can see, not only are manufacturing jobs disappearing, those that are left actually have seen a decline in inflation-adjusted earnings over the past three decades. In other words, the purchasing power of your average manufacturing employee is less than it was three decades ago. Not so for the other three supersectors in the chart. I’m no workforce expert but this doesn’t seem to make a strong argument for the manufacturing industry here in America until our companies figure out how to effectively navigate overseas competition despite higher wages, corporate health care and other legacy costs, Americans’ expectations regarding standard of living, and other issues.

I’m not completely sure what to make of all of this. Right now I’m trying to locate data and present them in ways that make sense to me because I have a sense that this stuff is pretty important. As I share this out, your thoughts and expertise are welcome!

One last thing

FYI, despite my best efforts with it, Wolfram Alpha was of no help whatsoever with this investigation. Maybe down the road as it gets more sophisticated, increases its store of data, etc.

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