Manufacturing jobs just ain’t what they used to be

In my never-ending quest to wrap my head around workforce data despite no background or training whatsoever, I’ve been playing around with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) web site. But first a quick look at General Motors (GM)!  [click on all images for larger versions]

General Motors has a shrinkage issue

As many of you know, GM has been in the news lately as it faces possible bankruptcy proceedings. The image below shows the shrinkage of GM’s workforce over a generation.


Combine this image with all of the other news on the U.S. automobile industry and it’s easy to see that automotive jobs in America, at least as they’ve traditionally been configured, often are a loser’s game due to lower costs and, often, higher quality overseas.

Hey, how are we supposed to make a living?

Below are two charts that I made after diving deep into the BLS Industries At A Glance data, particularly the historical trend data. The first chart shows that the number of employees in the professional and business services, financial activities, and education and health services supersectors grew substantially over the past three decades. In contrast, the manufacturing supersector has lost over a third of its employees and those job losses show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Of course the education and skills needed for these growth sectors of the American economy are different and/or higher than those needed for most manufacturing jobs. FYI, the data points are from the month of April for each year.


The second chart shows the average increase in real earnings since 1980, broken out by labor supersector and adjusted for inflation. As you can see, not only are manufacturing jobs disappearing, those that are left actually have seen a decline in inflation-adjusted earnings over the past three decades. In other words, the purchasing power of your average manufacturing employee is less than it was three decades ago. Not so for the other three supersectors in the chart. I’m no workforce expert but this doesn’t seem to make a strong argument for the manufacturing industry here in America until our companies figure out how to effectively navigate overseas competition despite higher wages, corporate health care and other legacy costs, Americans’ expectations regarding standard of living, and other issues.


I’m not completely sure what to make of all of this. Right now I’m trying to locate data and present them in ways that make sense to me because I have a sense that this stuff is pretty important. As I share this out, your thoughts and expertise are welcome!

One last thing

FYI, despite my best efforts with it, Wolfram Alpha was of no help whatsoever with this investigation. Maybe down the road as it gets more sophisticated, increases its store of data, etc.

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One Response to “Manufacturing jobs just ain’t what they used to be”

  1. A new world is coming to the American working class. They will live better lives, have free medical care, access to higher education, and few if any glitzy profit-makers from the unregulated Bush, cowboy style, vulture capitalists to purchase. Rail systems will ply the country, obviating the huge personal capital investment in motor-cars and commitment to gasoline purchases, local and community farms will provide cheap, plain food, Shanty towns will get free internet and water. Sewage will be bio-gased to cooking fuel. Cars will be rentable, re-chargeable battery and plastic affairs, and the uber-rich will be taxed out of existence! This is not the beginnings of a Socialist America! This is the end of an Oil Rich Era! Unemployment and underemployment along with labor competition for manufacturing jobs against semi-slave conditions in China and extremely low wages and costs of living across Asia in general, have left Americans only service industry jobs, part-time and temporary in nature. Even the mighty GM is feeling the change, and cannot adjust fast enough to survive it. The professions are next to take a hit, Doctors to be nationalized, Dentists the same fate, but later, Teachers given longer hours as schools will remain operating over summers, just to keep up to Asian, and Chinese standards in particular. lawyers will be set aside by socialized legal aid, the only law plain-living folks an afford, and the drug-lords and gangsters will find slim pickings among their poor American brethren! The beer-bellies and overly fat asses will be a yesteryear, “Times o’ Plenty”, phenomenon, and the average American diet will be almost totally vegetarian, due to economic situation. Veggie patches will spring up everywhere, a few brave folks have already started raising backyard chickens, and aquaculture, yielding both fish and veggies will come on strong, as will solar heating and power. Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations? Yes, we are at a turning point in the “American Dream” it has been found to be unsustainable, and must be altered to fit the new realities, and labor with it must also change.

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