The Manufacturing Myth
Robert B. Reich
Suddenly, manufacturing is back -- at least on the campaign trail. But don't be fooled. The real issue isn't how to get manufacturing back. It's how to get good jobs and good wages back. They aren't at all the same thing.
Republicans have become born-again champions of American manufacturing.
President Obama also wants to get manufacturing. His plan, unveiled last month, is to eliminate tax incentives for companies that move offshore and to create new lures for them to bring jobs home. "Our goal," he says, is to "create opportunities for hard-working Americans to start making stuff again."
Meanwhile, American consumers' pent-up demand for appliances, cars and trucks has created a small boomlet in American manufacturing -- setting off a wave of hope and nostalgic patriotism perfectly captured in
But American manufacturing won't be coming back. Although 404,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since
The long-term trend is fewer and fewer factory jobs. After World War II, one in three Americans was employed in manufacturing; today it's one in eight.
Even if we didn't have to compete with lower-wage workers overseas, we'd still have fewer factory jobs because the old assembly line has been replaced by numerically controlled machine tools and robotics.
Manufacturing is going high-tech, and as a result its productivity has skyrocketed -- meaning fewer jobs.
Bringing back American manufacturing isn't the real challenge, anyway. It's creating good jobs for the majority of Americans who lack four-year college degrees.
Manufacturing used to supply lots of these kinds of jobs, but that was because factory workers were represented by unions powerful enough to get high wages.
That's no longer the case. Even the once-mighty
If there's a single reason why the median wage has dropped dramatically for non-college workers over the past three and a half decades, it's the decline of unions. In the 1950s, more than a third of American workers were represented by a union. Now, fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers have a union behind them.
How do the candidates stand on unions? Romney vows to pass so-called "right-to-work" legislation barring job requirements of union membership and payment of union dues -- a proven way to bust unions. "I've taken on union bosses before," he says, "and I'm happy to take them on again." When Romney's not blaming
Santorum says he's supportive of private-sector unions, and while in the
President Obama praises "unionized plants" -- such as Master Lock, the
The president has also been noticeably silent on the labor struggles that have been roiling the Midwest, from
The fact is, American corporations -- both manufacturing and services -- are doing wonderfully well. Their third-quarter profits (the latest data available) totaled
But American workers aren't sharing in this bounty. Although jobs are slowly returning, wages continue to drop, adjusted for inflation. Of every dollar of income earned in
The fundamental problem isn't the decline of American manufacturing, and reviving manufacturing won't solve it. The problem is the declining power of American workers to share in the gains of the American economy. Stronger unions are needed -- in both manufacturing and in services.
Read the latest political news.
- Stock Market Picks 90 Percent of Presidential Elections
- Twitter Mentality a Threat to America
- God and Caesar in America
- The God Gap
- When the Senate Worked
- The Congressional Thaw
- Failed Highway Bill Shows Just How Fanatical GOP Has Become
- Starving Public Universities Shrinks the Middle Class
- The GOP's Worst Week
- Why Marco Rubio Can't Save the GOP
- Third-Party Group Wants Internet to Pick Presidential Candidate
- Buddy Roemer to Seek Third-Party Presidential Nomination
- Debt, Baby, Debt: America's Newest Voting Bloc
- GOP Candidates Could All Add to Federal Deficit
- Who is the True GOP Conservative?
- Rick Santorum: The GOP's Unelectable Soul Mate
- Getting to Know Them
- No Republican Middle
- Note to GOP Field: Braggadocio Is Not Leadership
- Rick Santorum Repulses Independent and Moderate Voters
- What Rick Santorum Has Been Saying, And 'Not Saying'
- Only Santorum Addresses Values Issues that Concern Voters
- Rick Santorum Appeals to Only a Minority of Voters
- Mitt Romney Is More Electable, But Needs to Clean Up Campaign
- Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum Disappoint Conservatives
- Mitt Romney Can't Be Trusted So Rick Santorum Is More Electable
- Romney's Arizona Law 'Model' Would Hurt All Immigrants
- The Manufacturing Myth
- GOP Candidates Revive Bush Pre-emption Doctrine
- The Tricky Politics of the Auto Bailout
- Protesting Today's Threat to Voting Rights
- Turning a Blind Eye to Government Benefits
- Obama Fights Back on GOP Gas-Price Attacks
- How Sex Hijacked Election Talk
- Rick Santorum's Reverse Snobbery
- Mr. Right Eludes the GOP
- Latino Voters to Candidates: What Are We, Chopped Chorizo?
- Lack of Enthusiasm Isn't Just a GOP Problem
- A Brokered GOP Convention?
- Obama's Cynicism for Me, Not for Thee
- Brash Limbaugh
- The Supreme Court: Politicizing Justice
- Muddying the Playing Field
- National Deficit Result of Wars and Bush Tax Cuts
- Five Ways to Spin Obama Tax Plan
- Social Issues Bring in Popular Vote for Republicans
- Republicans Can Win on Economic Issues, Not a Culture War
- Social Issues Are at the Core of Our Problems
- Republicans Should Focus on the Economy
- GOP Needs to Rethink Positions on Economy, Foreign Policy
- Republican Mean Streak Could Leave GOP Out in the Cold
- Extra Dollars You're Paying At Pump Going To Wall Street Speculators
- A Farewell to Fossil Fuels
- United States Can't Control the World Oil Market
- The Future of U.S. - Chinese Relations
- If American Manufacturers Keep Jobs, So Does Obama
- GOP Will Lose in 2012 if Social Issues Take Center Stage
- Why Looks Are Everything in a Presidential Election
- Swing Voters Need a Champion
- Good Businessmen Rarely Make Good Presidents
- Un-Presidential Primaries
- Inside Rick Santorum's Head
- Improving Economy Driving Independents Back to Obama
The Manufacturing Myth | Politics
Copyright © 2012 Tribune Media Services