Will manufacturing jobs return to the U.S.?

Some manufacturing jobs are gone for good.
Some manufacturing jobs are gone for good.
Stock illustration.
President-elect Donald Trump often uses his Twitter account to announce that various companies are keeping their manufacturing plants in the U.S.

   This is the news his supporters want to hear. In the 10 years from 2000 to 2010, 5.6 million manufacturing jobs were lost, according to a Ball State University study. But at the same time, manufacturing has gone high-tech. Robots work the assembly lines, and some jobs are gone for good. Here are three reports that examine how automation is changing the jobs picture: 

The Myth and the Reality of Manufacturing in America, June 2015, by Michael J. Hicks, George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics, Miller College of Business at Ball State University, and Srikant Devaraj, senior research associate and project manager, Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State.
     The notion that manufacturing in the United States is in decline is factually incorrect, according to this report.
    “Growth in manufacturing remains positive and the sector as a whole has appeared strong and resilient over the past several decades,” the report explained, but that "is not the belief among many observers who feel manufacturing in the United States is in sectoral decline. We believe a contribution to the myth of manufacturing decline is the state of labor usage in manufacturing.”
    So what is the state of labor usage in manufacturing? “In 1998, the inflation-adjusted output per worker was much lower than it is today,” according to the report. “This is due to a variety of factors, chief among them being the automation and information technology advances absorbed by these sectors over this time period. The higher output per worker has meant firms could lower their price for goods.”
    In the 10 years from 2000 to 2010, the researchers conclude, only 13 percent of job losses were due to trade. Much of the remainder had to do with an increase in worker productivity.    
    “Three factors have contributed to changes in manufacturing employment in recent years: Productivity, trade, and domestic demand. Overwhelmingly, the largest impact is productivity. Almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories,” the report says.

Robots at Work, June 2016, by Georg Graetz, economics department, Uppsala University, Sweden, and Guy Michaels, London School of Economics. 
    This report analyzes the economic impact of industrial robots on industries from 1993 to 2007 in 17 countries: the U.S., 14 European nations, South Korea and Australia.
    "When we look at the effects of robots on the hours worked by different skill groups...we find that robots appear to reduce the hours worked by low-skilled workers. We also find that robots had no significant effect on hours worked by middle- and high-skilled workers," the report said.
    But during the period analyzed, the authors wrote, “industrial robots were used in just under a third of the economy … and service robots were still in their infancy. This means that there is plenty of potential for increased use of robots in new industries. Moreover, as new robot capabilities are developed, they may be used more intensively in the industries that are already using them. This suggests that the likely contribution of robots on future growth is substantial.” 

Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce AutomationMarch 2016, by Aaron Smith, associate director, research, the Pew Research Center.  
    Many Americans worry that progress could soon spell trouble in the workforce.
    This survey examines opinions on the future of robots or computers throughout various workplaces. In all, 65 percent of Americans expect that within 50 years robots or computers will definitely or probably do much of the work now done by humans. “One-in-ten workers are concerned about losing their current jobs due to workforce automation,” the report explained, “but competition from lower-paid human workers and broader industry trends pose a more immediate worry.”


    Americans see computers as competition

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