By Hank Robison and Rob Sentz
We recently observed that there are only about 50 manufacturing sectors out of 472 (6-digit NAICS) that actually gained jobs over the past 10 years. This made us wonder because we keep hearing that manufacturing output is actually improving. Politicians and policymakers tend to assume that an uptick in output would naturally result in an uptick in employment. So we investigated.
What we found
We placed national export data on top of job totals for each of the 472 manufacturing sectors, and found that manufacturing exports (inflation-adjusted) actually grew by 56% from 02-10 while manufacturing jobs contracted by 23%. Growth in exports have clearly not resulted in more domestic jobs. See the interactive graphic at the bottom of this post for a visualization.
Across the manufacturing sectors we are actually seeing a predominantly inverse relationship between jobs and exports. To explore this further, we placed each of the 472 industries into one of four categories (again see the graphic):
1) Those that gained both exports and jobs,
2) Those that gained exports but lost jobs,
3) Those that lost exports but gained jobs, and
4) Those that lost both exports and jobs.
Those advocating for increased exports as a way of resuscitating jobs in manufacturing need to look at this data. Only 11% of all manufacturing sectors showed gains in jobs and exports, which is not a huge surprise given manufacturing decline. 19% lost jobs AND exports at the same time. Now here is the stat really worth noting — 71% of all manufacturing sectors increased their exports while decreasing their domestic workforce.
There are some political ramifications here. The Obama Administration has proposed exports as a key to kick-starting the U.S. labor market (see this post from Brookings). Economists and policy experts as well as all of us here at EMSI are huge fans of improving exports. Exports are a principal source of foreign exchange and an important driver for U.S. goods. Export industries also tend to pay higher wages and connect with the rest of the economy through greater multiplier effects, which mean they are key for income and job formation.
However, as the data suggests things are not that simple. Domestic manufacturers appear to be outsourcing large parts of their work to foreign suppliers. In the process, they employ fewer domestic workers but become more competitive in foreign markets. As a result, exports go up while employment goes down. This is something that policymakers need to consider before pinning too much hope on exports as a way of reviving manufacturing sector employment.
There may be a conflict of goals here. On one hand we want high-wage, high-benefit jobs; on the other, “full employment.” But in manufacturing can we have both? If wages, and benefits are pushing producers to outsource then either wages go down (an unattractive prospect), or we adopt policies that spawn productivity growth needed to support high-wages. Are there any other choices?
In this interactive graphic, you can explore EMSI’s data on manufacturing jobs and exports. The data is based on 4-digit NAICS manufacturing sectors. NOTE: 6-digit data was used in the previous analyis.
Click on the chart to highlight an industry or use the drop-down box. Data in the top half of the graphic shows percentage change in jobs (on the y-axis) and exports (on the x-axis). The bottom line graph simply compares manufacturing jobs and exports over time.
As we highlighted above, 71% of all manufacturing sectors increased their exports while decreasing their domestic workforce from 2002 to 2010.
For more information, email Rob Sentz.