The current edition of The Atlantic has several great stories including Made in America, Again...
But there is a trend worth worrying about, which is the disappearance of manufacturing jobs from the workforce. Shortly after World War II, about one-quarter of employed Americans held manufacturing jobs. Now less than one-tenth do. From the perspective of individual businesses, this change is natural and desirable—rising productivity by definition means fewer people making more things. But it is troublesome for society as a whole, since factory jobs have historically buoyed the middle class and given rise to future industries and jobs, virtuous-cycle style.
As I’ve visited scores of factories in the U.S., China, and elsewhere, I have asked experts about trends shaping the creation or elimination of manufacturing jobs. Those I’ll mention here are James Manyika, a director of the McKinsey Global Institute and a leader of a major study there on the future of manufacturing; Liam Casey, whose PCH International developed a vast outsourcing network in China and is now fostering hardware start-ups in the U.S.; David Joyce, the head of GE Aviation, which has opened six new engine-building factories in the U.S. in the past seven years; and Jeffrey Chidester of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, which recently issued a report about U.S. manufacturing policies. (I was on a related advisory commission.) As with any important topic, the complexities are enormous, and the full reports are worth your time. But here, in shorthand, are three big things that could shape the future of manufacturing work in America.
One of these big things is a move toward more local production. Do companies that have outsourced production at the expense of long-term, dedicated employees have to wipe the egg off their face and wipe their hands on their jeans to return home? If they do I hope they still make the effort to resume manufacturing in America. Of course, if those jeans are Levi’s purchased in the last ten years they would be outsourced as Levi’s no longer make any jeans in America.
Let’s go back to a time when Levi’s was America’s Jean with Conway Twitty and his hit Tight Fitting Jeans.