Changing Workforce / Supply Chain Management

Perspective: Reality check – manufacturing jobs aren't coming back

By Michael Hicks for the Indianapolis Star

May 09, 2016

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A primary election has just passed and Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both won comfortably with some version of a promise to “bring back jobs and manufacturing to America.” Voters clinging to this hope need to steel themselves for a letdown.

To be sure, our trade deficits have cost us manufacturing jobs. The high-end estimates are that today we have 1.5 million fewer manufacturing jobs across the nation because of foreign trade. All the other 6 million or so lost manufacturing jobs are due to mechanization, better technology and better production practices. Today’s typical factory workers make twice as much “stuff” in an hour as they did in 1977.

For every manufacturing job lost to trade, nearly nine have been lost to machines. But trade also creates jobs. We have 7 million more transportation and logistics jobs alone, likely attributable to trade since the 1970s. But that is sophisticated analysis, and this is a column about Sanders and Trump, so I’d better stop there.

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