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Manufacturing Since the Great Recession

Executive Summary

The U.S. manufacturing sector has turned a corner. For the first time in over 10 years, output and employment are growing steadily. Manufacturing output has grown 38 percent since the end of the recession, and the sector accounts for 19 percent of the rise in real gross domestic product (GDP) since then. Through May, the sector has added 646,000 jobs, and manufacturers are actively recruiting to fill another 243,000 positions.[1]

The steady growth across all three of these areas might have seemed like wishful thinking just a few years ago when manufacturing was hit especially hard. Yet, manufacturing output and exports have surpassed their pre-recession peaks, and employment has begun to grow again for the first time since 1998. Analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors indicates that this is more than a cyclical rebound; the US has gained about four times as many manufacturing jobs since 2009 as would be expected from cyclical factors alone. Nonetheless, while the manufacturing expansion is robust, some industries and U.S. states have fared better than others. This report provides an overview of these trends in manufacturing, examining production, international trade, and the labor market.

Our analysis shows that:

  • Manufacturing has contributed decisively to GDP growth. Since the end of the recession in second quarter 2009, real manufacturing value added has climbed 18 percent, compared to an 11 percent rise in real U.S. GDP, increasing manufacturing’s share of total GDP to 12.5 percent at the end of 2013.
  • The manufacturing sector added 646,000 jobs from February 2010 to May 2014.
  • Average annual weekly hours for production workers in the manufacturing sector have climbed to their highest level since the mid 1940s.
  • Although growth has returned across manufacturing, just two industries have accounted for nearly half the rise in shipments: transportation equipment and petroleum and coal products.
  • Export sales account for more than a quarter of the rebound in shipments since 2009. Exports of U.S. manufactured goods totaled $1.2 trillion in 2013. Transportation equipment and refined petroleum (and coal) products captured 43 percent of the export gains.
  • Foreign investors also are helping build the U.S. manufacturing sector. As of 2012, total direct investment in the U.S. from abroad totaled $2.7 trillion, of which $899 billion (34 percent) was placed in the manufacturing sector.
  • The number of manufacturing establishments is growing for the first time since 1999.
  • 87 percent of the job gains in manufacturing have been in three durable goods industries: transportation equipment, fabricated metal products, and machinery.
  • Job gains in manufacturing have been widespread throughout the country. More than half of the jobs added were in five states: Michigan, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

[1] Openings data from Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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