There is a continual complaint that US manufacturing has been “hollowed out.” Where manufacturing jobs once were tickets to the middle-class lifestyle, there are now fewer and fewer such jobs available. Indeed, the next chart shows that manufacturing jobs are down almost 40% from the peak in 1978 and back to roughly where they were during World War II.
Yet the number of manufacturing employees doesn’t tell the whole story. The US is still the number one manufacturing country in the world. We are an export powerhouse. Indeed, the growth of exports in the last 20 years has been nothing short of phenomenal. Exports have doubled and then doubled again. Total manufacturing in the US has almost come back to where it was prior to the Great Recession. Productivity in the last 20 years is up over 50%. We are producing as much as or more than we did in the past but with far fewer people. Taken alone, US manufacturing would be the ninth largest economy in the world. See the next three charts:
The chart below shows the average growth in productivity over various periods during the last 65 years. Note that after the postwar boom productivity growth fell and then began to increase again, up until the Great Recession. Greenspan was right to call it the Productivity Miracle.
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