U.S. manufacturing, viewed as a lost cause by many Americans, has begun creating more jobs than it eliminates for the first time in more than a decade.
As the economy recovered and big companies began upgrading old factories or building new ones, the number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. last year grew 1.2%, or 136,000, the first increase since 1997, government data show. That total will grow again this year, according to economists at IHS Global Insight and Moody's Analytics.
The economists' projections for this year — calling for a gain of about 2.5%, or 330,000 manufacturing jobs — won't come close to making up for the nearly six million lost since 1997. But manufacturing should be at least a modest contributor to total U.S. employment in the next couple of years, these economists say.
After a steep slump during the recession, manufacturing is "the shining star of this recovery," says Thomas Runiewicz, an economist at IHS. He expects total U.S. manufacturing jobs this year to rise to about 12 million. Currently, manufacturing jobs account for about 9% of all U.S. nonfarm jobs; the average pay for those jobs is roughly $22 an hour, or nearly twice the average for service jobs, according to government data.