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Obama's manufacturing jobs renaissance is mostly fake

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Barack Obama loves manufacturing. On Thursday he issued a proclamation declaring that October 3 is is National Manufacturing Day (really). And then on National Manufacturing Day he announced the creation of some new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes. And in his speech about the New Foundation for the American economy, he bragged about manufacturing's success in #ObamasAmerica:

Meanwhile, our 100-year supply of natural gas is a big factor in drawing jobs back to our shores. Many are in manufacturing — which produce the quintessential middle-class job. During the last decade, it was widely accepted that American manufacturing was in irreversible decline. And just six years ago, its crown jewel, the American auto industry, could not survive on its own. With the help of folks like Jan and Dick and Mike Quigley and others, we helped our automakers restructure and retool. Today, they're building and selling new cars at the fastest rate in eight years. We invested in new plants, new technologies, new high-tech hubs like the Digital Manufacturing and Design Institute that Northwestern has partnered with in Chicago.

Today, American manufacturing has added more than 700,000 new jobs. It's growing almost twice as fast as the rest of the economy. And more than half of all manufacturing executives have said they are actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. To many in the middle class, the last decade was defined by outsourcing good jobs overseas. If we keep up these investments, we can define this decade by what's known as "insourcing" —with new factories now opening their doors here in America at the fastest pace in decades. And in the process, we've also worked to grow American exports and open new markets, knock down barriers to trade, because businesses that export tend to have better-paying jobs. So today, our businesses sell more goods and services made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. Ever.

The reality is that this narrative about manufacturing jobs does not withstand much scrutiny. Here is manufacturing employment since Obama took office:

The entire renaissance in manufacturing employment is a partial return of jobs lost in the first year of his administration. Now here is manufacturing jobs as a share of all jobs:

That is 30 years of uninterrupted decline. What is true is that the pace of the decline has slowed down in recent years. But the decline continues. Since record-keeping began, never has a smaller share of the American workforce had a manufacturing job than right now.

Of course not all is bleak in the realm of manufacturing. Thanks to technological improvements and growing productivity, the dollar value of American factory output is rising. But the idea that Obama's policies are creating a new era of manufacturing employment as a pillar of wage growth is just wrong. If you're a young person looking for a chance at a good job in the future, you need to learn to make craft cocktails or write apps or take care of sick elderly people or optimize digital content for social network distribution. Factory jobs just keep getting harder to find.

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