In celebrating Manufacturing Day Oct. 5, the U.S. Census Bureau highlighted the continuing role manufacturing plays in the American economy, noting the not so often appreciated strength of that sector.
The first Manufacturing Day was celebrated by 200 businesses around the country. They aimed to change perceptions of the industry and opened up shop floors to the public. The Census Bureau participated in hopes of supporting U.S. job creation.
A number of states officially declared Oct. 5 Manufacturing Day.
"Manufacturing is a wonderful career path for highly skilled workers within a crucial sector of our economy," said Kentucky's Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in explaining why his state officially proclaimed the day. "I would encourage any young person to consider this field for a solid, long-term career choice with a promising future."
According to information obtained by the 2010 Census, manufacturing, though declining, is still the fourth largest employer of Americans. With 10.9 million workers making their living there, the sector ranks behind only heath care and social work, the retail industry and food services in terms of the sheer number of jobs. Health care and social services, the biggest industry, provides 17.8 million jobs.
Other information provided by the bureau seems to imply that maintaining an industrial base - providing more jobs manufacturing goods - especially in relation to food service and retail, is in the interest of American workers, and their pocketbooks. While manufacturing comes in at only eight in average pay, it handily beats the industries that rival it in size.
The average manufacturing employee earns $50,700 annually, while the corresponding number for food services is a paltry $16,400. Retail workers make $24,800 and health care and social assistance employees take in $42,300 annually on average.
Manufacturing also beats out the national average for all industries, which is $44, 100, slightly less than what health care and social service workers make, and nearly three times what retail workers make.
The top sector, management of companies and enterprises, which includes billionaire CEOs as well as lower-ranking managers, has an average income of $99,500, nearly double that of manufacturing. Information and scientific workers also do well, bringing home $71,100 and $69,400 respectively on average.
While the information industry employs relatively few workers, it is increasing in numbers, while manufacturing is decreasing.
The manufacturing industry is changing, however. While it used to be the norm for workers to go straight from high school into the factory, higher education is becoming far more important as the commodities created are far more high tech. More than a quarter, 27.4 percent, of manufacturing workers now hold a Bachelor's degree.
The top product of manufacturers is chemicals, which accounts for $701 billion in value of shipments. Food, transportation equipment, and petroleum and coal products are next in line. The smallest output is paper and plastic and rubber products.
This sector of the economy contributes the vast majority of American exports, or 60 percent. 23.6 percent of exports are sent by wholesalers and 16.3 percent by "others and unclassified."
Manufacturing Day was sponsored by a host of industry organizations, representing both traditional and "green" business, as well as the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services and other non-profit groups.
The Obama administration has been working to increase the number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Earlier this year, for example, the administration announced a public-private organization, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which would be awarded $30 million in federal funding, matched by $40 million from the consortium that put the institute together. This consortium includes manufacturers, universities and community colleges and non-profit organizations from the Tech Belt, an area encompassing parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Obama's presidential campaign accuses his opponent, Mitt Romney, of outsourcing American manufacturing jobs, thereby weakening this sector of the economy.
Image via U.S. Census Bureau.