Employment in manufacturing peaked in the U.S. in June 1979, at almost 19.6 million jobs. This September, that was down to 12.3 million (these numbers are seasonally adjusted).
That fall in employment tells us a lot about today's American political and economic life. It helps explain why regions that were heavily reliant on manufacturing have been struggling so much, why older Americans without college degrees are so cranky, why labor unions are so weak. But does it mean that American manufacturing is in decline?
Current manufacturing output is 41 percent higher than back in the happy days of 1997. That doesn't sound like a decline!
There's a catch, though. As economist Susan N. Houseman of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Michigan, points out, about half of the growth in U.S. manufacturing output since 1997 has been in just one sector: computer and electronics manufacturing.