|Most Americans unaware that as U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared, output has grown. Due in part to the manufacturing industry investing in more machinary, workers becoming more skilled and educated and the streamlining of the manufacturing process.|
August 3, 2017
Manufacturing jobs in the United States have declined considerably over the past several decades, even as manufacturing output – the value of goods and products manufactured in the U.S. – has grown strongly. But while most Americans are aware of the decline in employment, relatively few know about the increase in output, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Four of every five Americans (81%) know that the total number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has decreased over the past three decades, according to the survey of 4,135 adults from Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. But just 35% know that the nation’s manufacturing output has risen over the same time span, versus 47% who say output has decreased and 17% who say it’s stayed about the same. Only 26% of those surveyed got both questions right.
College graduates are more likely to know that U.S. manufacturing output has increased than are people with less than a bachelor’s degree. Still, college graduates are about as likely to say output has increased rather than decreased (43% versus 39%), with the rest saying it’s stayed about the same. About half (51%) of people without a four-year college degree say manufacturing output has fallen, versus a third (32%) who say it has risen.
Older people generally are more likely than younger people to believe manufacturing output has fallen. More than half (56%) of 50- to 64-year-olds, and nearly half (49%) of people 65 and older, say that’s the case, compared with 39% of 18- to 29-year-olds. Income also appears to be a factor: 42% of people earning $100,000 or more a year say manufacturing output has increased, the highest level of any income bracket, while 55% of those earning between $30,000 and $49,999 a year say output has declined.
One reason Americans may be more familiar with the long-term decline in manufacturing employment than the increase in output is that the job losses have been highly visible, especially in traditionally manufacturing-intensive areas of the Midwest and South.
Manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 at 19.4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and by 1987 had fallen to 17.6 million. What had been a slow decline in employment accelerated after the turn of the century, and especially during the Great Recession. Manufacturing payrolls bottomed out at fewer than 11.5 million in early 2010, and even though more than 900,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since, overall employment in manufacturing is still at its lowest level since before the U.S. entered World War II.
As a share of the overall workforce, manufacturing has been dropping steadily ever since the Korean War ended, as other sectors of the U.S. economy have expanded much faster. From nearly a third (32.1%) of the country’s total employment in 1953, manufacturing has fallen to 8.5% today.
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