Decline in U.S. Manufacturing Employment

December 23, 2008

CBO released an economic and budget issuebrief todaythat discusses thefactors underlying the decline in manufacturing employment over the past several years. The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy has experienced substantial job losses since 2000. During the recession of 2001 and its immediate aftermath, employment in the manufacturing sector fell by about 2.9 million jobs, or 17 percent. Even after overall employment began to improve in 2004, the decline in manufacturing employment persisted. By the end of 2007, with the slowing of economic growth, employment in the sector had edged down further, by half a million jobs. And, as of November 2008, employment in manufacturing had fallen yet again, by slightly more than 600,000 jobs.A significant number of additional losses is likely given the current weakness in the economy.

Although the decline in manufacturing employment in recent years is not a departure from long-standing trendsthe sectors share of total employment has been falling steadily for more than half a centurythe recession of 2001 hit manufacturing particularly hard. And, in sharp contrast to the pattern observed during previous expansions, employment in manufacturing (as reflected in the total number of hours worked) did not recover as it usually does following a recession.

The decline in manufacturing employment between 2000 and 2007 stemmed as much from an absence of new hiring as it did from layoffs of individual workers and downsizing. Rates of both job losses and job gains have been lower since the 2001 recession than they were in the 1990s.Workers wholost jobs, however, have typically experienced longer stretches of unemployment than did workers who lostjobs in the previous decade.

The steep decline in manufacturing employment since 2000 is associated with two interrelated developments: rapid gains in productivity (output per hour) in U.S. manufacturing and increased competition from foreign producers. Productivity in manufacturing has risen by about one-third since 2000, and growth in that productivity has consistently exceeded that of the overall nonfarm business sector.

Competition from overseas helped spur U.S. firms to boost productivity, but that competition has also dampened demand for goods produced in the United States, despite domestic manufacturers efforts to reduce costs through productivity enhancements. Those same developments have also had some beneficial effects for many U.S. residents,including the ability to buy manufactured goods at relatively low prices.

This decline in manufacturing employment represents a reallocation of jobs among industries rather than a decline in total employment in the United States. Until recently, other sectors of the economy have more than compensated in terms of overall employment, as evidenced by the relatively low 4.7 percent unemployment rate that existed during early 2007 and the roughly 7.5 million net new jobs created in the U.S. between early 2004 and the end of 2007.

This brief was prepared by David Brauer with the assistance of Eric Miller, both ofCBO's Macroeconomic Analysis Division.