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February 18, 2015

U.S. manufacturing employment is rising at its fastest pace in 18 years.

By Edward Gresser

THE NUMBERS: Shares of world manufacturing output, by value-added, 2013*

EU (28) 23.4%
United States 19.1%
China 17.6%
Japan 10.4%
Latin America 5.8%
ASEAN 4.1%
Korea 3.6%
South Asia 2.9%
Middle East 2.2%
Sub-Saharan Africa 1.5%
All other 8.2%

* Major components of “All Other” include Russia 1.6%, Canada 1.5%, Taiwan 1.5%, Turkey 1.3%, Australia/New Zealand 1.0%, Switzerland 0.9%.


From 2005 to 2010, the U.S. share of world factory output fell from 22 percent to 19 percent. Since the millennial decade’s disastrous end they’ve revived – the UN’s Industrial Development Organization’s most recent quarterly review, in fact, finds American manufacturing the bright spot in a gloomy industrial world:

“European economies lost their momentum of growth amid weak consumer demand, the threat of deflation and geopolitical tensions, while East Asia was negatively affected by tax hikes in Japan. Most of the growth of industrialized economies was attributable to US manufacturing. The pace of growth of developing and emerging industrial economies was relatively slow, primarily due to the falling growth rate of Chinese manufacturing and the slowdown in Latin America.”

Turning to dollar figures, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, since 2009 American manufacturing output – cars, satellites, planes, medical equipment, metals, and so on – has grown from $1.73 trillion to $1.93 trillion, including an apparent $60 billion real-dollar jump from 2013 to 2014. This rate of growth is about 50 percent faster than other rich countries, and about equals the rate of growth for the personal computers, jackets, smart-phones and computers put out by developing economies. For 2014, manufacturing output is up by 4.4 percent in the U.S., but down by 1.1 percent worldwide, pushed down by slumps in China, Japan, and Latin America.

For a more ‘static’ and ‘absolute-number’ total, the UN counts in constant 2005 dollars. As of 2013, their figures make the U.S. the largest manufacturing economy at $1.72 trillion in value-added output, followed by China at $1.58 trillion, Japan at $1.04 trillion, then Germany, Korea, the U.K., France, India, Mexico, and Brazil. By country, the figures look like this:

WORLD $8,980 billion
United States $1,719 billion
China $1,582 billion
Japan $1,044 billion
Germany $589 billion
Korea $322 billion
U.K. $250 billion
Italy $227 billion
France $226 billion
India $202 billion
Mexico $173 billion
All Other $2,643 billion

At a more human level, good news for factory output is starting to show up in employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a net gain of 222,000 factory jobs last year – the largest jump since 1997, completing the first five years of consecutive factory job gains since 1992-1997. (Samples: 20,000 more making furniture, 54,000 more in auto and auto parts plants, 38,000 in machine manufacturing, 6,000 in pharmaceutical labs, 17,000 in wood products shops, and – with construction also turning up – 5,000 in cement and 11,000 in steel, copper, aluminum and other metals.) Should factory employment rise again in 2015 (so far, it has, but only for one month – January added another 22,000), the six-year stretch would be the longest run of continuous manufacturing job gains since the 1960s.


UNIDO has country-by-country data:

And quarterly reports on the factory world:

While the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has a “GDP by Industry” database back to 1997; even with the crisis, since then real-dollar factory production has grown from $1.37 trillion to a likely :

Policy –

The Commerce Department’s manufacturing site, 2015:

From Congress, the New Democrat Coalition’s Trade, Critical Infrastructure & Manufacturing Task Force:

A note on trade –

Manufactured goods are the largest traded product, making up $1.2 trillion of the U.S.’ $2.3 trillion in exports for 2014, and $11.8 trillion of the world’s $22 trillion in annual exports for 2013. One of Congress’ major trade decisions this year, and major manufacturing policy decisions, will be on renewal of authorization for the U.S.’ export finance agency, the Export-Import Bank. ProgressiveEconomy Director Ed Gresser explains:

More on jobs –

An oddity – The U.S.’ strong net factory job growth these days reflects less a very high pace of hiring than an extremely low rate of layoffs. Total hires in 2014 were likely about 3.1 million, still well below the 4.4 million a year before the crisis. On the other hand, in 2012, 2013, and 2014 factories appear to have set three consecutive records for the lowest layoff rates ever. (Though there’s some uncertainty, as the BLS’ figures for total layoffs go back only to 2000.) Broken down, the net gain of 222,000 jobs over 2014 looks like this:

3.11 million factory hires;
–  1.45 million voluntary quits (i.e. to take new jobs, go back to school, etc.)
–  1.14 million layoffs;
–  0.30 million retirements
= 0.22 million net new jobs.

The still-relatively-slow hiring pace could indicate (a) continuing post-crisis caution in HR departments; (b) structural changes reducing the number of human workers factories need as compared to robots, 3D printers, computers, and so on; (c) relatively faster growth in capital- and tech-intensive industry as opposed to labor-intensive industry; or (d) some simultaneous combination of all three. In BLS’ database, go to “Job Opening and Labor Turnover” for total layoffs and hires, and to “Employment, Hours, and Earnings” for net job increases and declines by industry:

Find a factory job –

Satellite assembler, Boeing/El Segundo:

Frozen food preparation, Rich Products/Georgia:

Automotive production, Honda/Ohio:

Brass mill rolling, Olin/Illinois:—brass-mill-rolling—cleaning/job