Career Development / STEM Education

Perspective: Stop asking for manufacturing jobs, they're not coming back

By Scottie Lee Meyers, WPR

May 20, 2016

An economist is pleading to the presidential candidates to stop talking about returning manufacturing jobs to the U.S. because not only are they never coming back, they no longer provide the wages or stability of decades past.

FiveThirtyEight's chief economics writer Ben Casselman said Americans suffer from a kind of nostalgia when it comes to thinking of manufacturing jobs as well-paying with good benefits, even for non-college grads. That nostalgia, he said, is stuck in the 1950s.

"These are not gold-plated jobs by any stretch of the imagination, and I think we sort of have this idea in our head that they still are and it's just not true anymore," he said.

Thanks in part to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and later the Great Recession, as well as automation and globalization, today's manufacturing sector is largely a shell of what it once was, even if there's slight growth in the industry as the economy recovers.

Casselman said further evidence of today's manufacturing jobs losing their prestige is the fact that, as one recent study found, one-third of manufacturing workers are on some form of public assistance. He added that the current median wage sits at about $16 an hour.

It's time politicians face the facts, said Casselman. Today's economy is driven by the service and retail sectors. In fact, said Casselman, roughly 80 percent of all private-sector jobs are in those industries.

"I would love to see candidates talk more about how they're going to make good service-sector jobs, rather than sort of continuing to make what are really ultimately false promises about what they can do for manufacturing," said Casselman.

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