Contrary to popular myth, manufacturing output in the US has increased by over 30% in the past decade, and we’re still either number one or two (depending on the stats used) in the world. But what has changed profoundly is the employment in manufacturing. Not just the absolute numbers, which continues to drop (by a similar 30% in the past decade too), but also the type of opportunities within that industry. In the past, a manufacturing worker that showed higher than average motivation and work ethic had opportunities to rise through the ranks. That path has been almost completely cut off.
I stumbled unto this excellent article that profiles a 92-year-old family-run car parts manufacturer, and one of its workers, a 22 year-old woman. It spells out the reasons why manufacturers still have plants here (although what’s happened with Apple makes me wonder about the rationale), and the challenges of keeping a manufacturing business afloat. And it details the challenges facing Maddie (pictured above); despite an exceptional work ethic and motivation, her opportunities are profoundly limited. For that matter, her job may well be replaced eventually by the next robotic machine. If you have twenty minutes or so, it’s well worth the read, even if it won’t exactly cheer you up.