Factory Jobs Surge in Hottest Manufacturing Labor Market Since the 1970s

A mature African-American woman working in a metal fabrication shop.
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Are we entering a new American Industrial Revolution? According to a recent story in The New York Times, U.S. factory jobs are booming again at a rate not seen since the 1970s.

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While assembly work was a huge industry in the mid to late 20th century, automation, international outsourcing, advanced technology and of course the rise of the internet reversed the course, decimating the manufacturing job force to a shadow of its former self as nearly each recession over the past 50 years has led to “the loss of factory jobs that never returned,” the NYT detailed.

But the pandemic and the rise of niche industries has changed all that. As NYT writers expressed: “American manufacturers have now added enough jobs to regain all that they shed — and then some.”

According to the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) Democrats, in 2021, almost all 50 states added manufacturing jobs throughout the year beginning in February, resulting in an astonishing 375,000 added positions for those 11 months alone. Per the same source, just two years prior in 2019, only 2,000 such jobs were added across the U.S. in the same time span.

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The COVID-19 pandemic — which first stripped a large percentage of trades and factory work — is likely a major factor regarding the recent job increases as America has recovered in ways that support the manufacturing industry. According to The New York Times, rather than spending on travel and dining out (which were restricted due to COVID precautions), people were buying furniture and cars with the surplus in stimulus money they received.

Factory workers who created the goods Americans needed to get by while coping with the health emergency were also deemed essential, putting a premium on this line of work. Given funding from the American Rescue Plan of 2021, employers had the means to add more of these critical jobs to the assembly lines.

As the article indicated, “Manufacturing jobs quickly rebounded in the spring of 2020, then began to climb at a much faster pace than has been typical for factory job creation in recent decades.” It’s also noted that since June 2020, under both former President Trump and President Biden, more than 30,000 factory jobs a month have been added to the economy. That counteracts the 1.36 million manufacturing positions cut between February to April 2020 as the country faced a significant shutdown.

NYT numbers suggested that, currently, 1.43 million jobs have been added back for a surplus of 67,000 positions as compared to pre-COVID figures. With President Biden putting a premium on locally sourced components — like those for electric vehicles as part of tax credits allowed under the Inflation Reduction Act — and with tensions with China rising and detracting from demand regarding imported goods, this trend is likely to continue.

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The only problem now seems to be finding and hiring skilled workers during an apparent labor shortage. Though, as the JEC noted, manufacturing jobs are some of the most secure and high-paying gigs for workers, particularly those without college degrees. Per The Washington Post, demand for education in skilled trades is making a huge comeback as student loans continue to mount and more young people entering the workforce debate if a degree is worth the cost.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined GOBankingRates.com in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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