Manufacturing's Next Decade

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The late '90s haven't been kind to many people on the production line. In 1990, manufacturing employed 19 million people, or 17.4 percent of all non-farm workers in the United States. In April, 18.4 million people worked in manufacturing, 14.4 percent of all people on non-farm payrolls. The last year alone saw some 400,000 jobs lost in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Productivity, meanwhile, continues to grow. "If manufacturers can keep up productivity without hiring more people, they'll do so," says Francisco Moris, an economist at the BLS. "But if the recovery in the sector is strong enough, employment might very well follow. It's a wild card."

The news hasn't been bad all around. From 1987 to 1997, many metro areas experienced boosts in manufacturing jobs. Boise, Idaho, home of computer maker Micron Electronics, saw a 97 percent increase in manufacturing employment through 1997. Not far behind were Las Vegas and Austin-San Marcos, Texas. Still, this ten-year span just misses the onset of the Asian financial crisis, which took hold at the end of 1997 and carried through to 1998. The manufacturing sector, including makers of machinery, semiconductors, and aircraft, saw exports weaken as a result and, in spring 1998, employment started to slip. It's been on a steady decline ever since.

Earnings have fared a bit better. Wilmington, Delaware, (think DuPont) reigns as top metro area for earnings per manufacturing job. In 1987, the annual paycheck per job in the MSA was $58,350 in 1992 dollars. Ten years later, earnings had jumped to $81,580 in 1992 dollars, according to NPA Data Services in Washington, D.C. Rounding out the top three in 1997 were Houston (oil refineries) and Flint, Michigan (cars). The three heavyweights are expected to keep their rankings in 2007. Indeed, NPA predicts that only one MSA-top dog Wilmington-will see real earnings drop in manufacturing jobs from 1997 to 2007.

Punta Gorda, Florida, will experience the biggest boom in manufacturing employment through 2007, estimates NPA, but don't look for much improvement in earnings there. In 1997, per-job earnings in Punta Gorda were the fourth-lowest among 316 metro areas: $21,100 in 1992 dollars. In 2007, earnings in the MSA are projected to inch up to $26,650, landing it at number six from the bottom.

For more information about employment trends in manufacturing and other sectors, visit the BLS web site, stats.bls.gov. NPA Data Services can be reached at (202) 884-7634.

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