– Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), a labor-management partnership of several leading U.S. manufacturers and the United Steelworkers. The views expressed are his own. —
Barack Obama knows the story of American manufacturing firsthand. He cut his political teeth as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago in the shadow of shuttered steel mills, working to salvage hopes and dreams that had been crushed by the weight of layoffs and economic decline. As President, he can authoritatively recall America’s industrial heritage and decline, but more importantly, Obama can lead the nation to a renaissance in American manufacturing.
Manufacturing has boosted the American economy, jobs, and wages for generations dating back to World War II. Recently, it has fallen on very hard times. Nearly one in four manufacturing jobs has vanished since 2000, and 40,000 factories have closed since 1998. Last year, manufacturing accounted for nearly a third of all lost jobs in the U.S., while factory orders plummeted to record lows.
The health of manufacturing is important even for those who do not hold factory jobs. That is because manufacturing jobs pay better wages than other forms of employment—twenty percent above the U.S. average. Manufacturing jobs also have a stronger multiplier effect—supporting as many as five other jobs—thus contributing disproportionately to the economy. Manufacturers are large local taxpayers, supporting vital public services and schools in communities across the nation. American manufactured products tend to have a much smaller pollution footprint than Chinese products, and we are already deploying new technologies to compete in the clean energy economy of tomorrow. Finally, our national security depends on a strong defense industrial base to supply our troops and protect our interests.
If the creative destruction of capitalism and the arc of history were responsible for American manufacturing’s steep decline, there would be a legitimate debate about whether or not it is worth saving. But public policies have contributed tremendously to the predicament we now face; smarter public policies can get us on the path to recovery.