Excuse me-- did your job move overseas?
The Atlantic's Jordan Weissman reports on a new study by University of Pennsylvania economist Jeremy Greenwood and the Census Bureau's Emin Dinlersoz. The study, which tracked the fastest-declining and fastest-growing occupations between 1983 and 2002, reveals some interesting points about the U.S. economy.
Eight of the 20 fastest-declining occupations were very much centered in manufacturing-- specifically, the machine shops, tool and die operations, and metalforming works that produced a vast array of assembly parts for larger operations. These jobs, like "milling and planing machine operators" and "lathe and turning nachine set-up operators," demanded specialized, niche manufacturing skills to produce the components of a heavily industrialized economy.
As Weissman astutely recognizes, these jobs didn't simply get phased out by technology, with jobs being lost to technological advances. Poorly conceived trade policies helped contribute to the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs:
Improved technology isn't the only explanation for America's big switch away from an economy that favored a highly unionized, low-skill workforce. The late twentieth century saw the mass migration of manufacturing to Asia, which led to the disappearance of certain industries stateside and forced many factories to slim down and automate their operations to keep pace with their new international competition.
And as further proof of manufacturing's overall importance, the single fastest growing occupation is one in high-tech manufacturing:
Of the fastest-growing occupations, the winner, by a long shot, was numerical control machine operators -- the men and women who program and run factory machinery. Specialized knowledge replaced a steady hand and strong back.
The U.S. can continue to grow good-paying manufacturing jobs, but only if some key steps are taken, and soon.
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