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Where have manufacturing jobs gone and why aren’t they coming back?

Don’t blame it on China. In recent years production IS returning to the US. But automation is stealing away the very job we seek to replace.

Production on the rise, and yet…

The discussion of US manufacturing jobs or the lack of same makes for a great argument during election time. And it doesn’t really matter what side of the fence you ride. Candidates pound their fists and raise their voices and you’d think China was stealing bids on jobs during the dead of night or something. Hey we can use a scapegoat. It helps deflect the realities but the truth lies somewhere in between: slowly but surely, production is rising back in the US.


Automation is phasing out these jobs

Manufacturing is becoming more and more automated. Automation may be the wave of the future but it takes jobs away and what’s worse these displaced workers aren’t being re-directed into other areas of production as a way to utilize their skills. Studies show that the United States has lost more than 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA took effect in 1994 and those jobs aren’t coming back any time soon.


A double-edged sword

In 1994 there were 3.5 million more Americans working in manufacturing than in retail. According to an article on, today, those numbers have almost exactly reversed, and the gap is widening. More than 80 percent of all private jobs, reports, are now in the service sector.

Ensuring employment for manufacturers

Avoidance may be the only solution. None of the candidates seems to be offering up any tangible solutions. At least nothing that we all haven’t heard of before. Adds NY Times economist Eduardo Porter, “Candidates ought to be talking about ways to ensure that the service sector can fill manufacturing’s former role as a provider of dependable, decent-paying jobs.”

I’m not sure when that will ever happen, but until it does it makes for spirited discussion among Presidential hopefuls.

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Written By

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sandy Montalbano

    March 24, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Manufacturing is in fact returning from offshore. We have gone from losing about 140,000 manufacturing jobs per year in 2003 to net breakeven in 2014 and 2015. That is huge progress to celebrate!

    By getting companies to understand all of the benefits of local production and by adopting a more comprehensive total cost analysis, we could cut the trade deficit by 25% and bring back 1 million manufacturing jobs.

    Companies are recognizing that with the use of the refined metrics of total cost of ownership (TCO) to uncover the hidden costs and risks of offshoring and by reducing costs with sustainable strategies such as robotics, innovation, automation and LEAN, they can increase competitiveness and manufacture in the U.S. profitably.

    The time is right to make more Made in USA products available to U.S. consumers.

    The Reshoring Initiative Can Help

    In order to help companies decide objectively to reshore manufacturing back to the U.S. or offshore, the not-for-profit Reshoring Initiative’s free TCO Estimator can help corporations calculate the real P&L impact of reshoring or offshoring.

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