During the 2016 primary election, several presidential candidates repeatedly lamented the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump built their populist economic platforms around the issue, soon followed by other candidates and members of Congress. None of the rhetoric explains manufacturing as an industry or the entire economy.
Over the last 20 years, low-skilled manufacturing jobs have vanished from the U.S. while high skilled jobs flourish. The central political narrative is that jobs are primarily lost to overseas competitors.
While this may be anecdotally true, low-skilled manufacturing jobs disappeared primarily as the result of automation — which, ironically, is produced by US manufacturers. Offshoring only happened as a result of automating low-skilled operations.
I work in manufacturing (specifically metal machining) and my experience has given me much needed perspective on the issue. Most people do not realize that manufacturing is a cannibalizing industry in terms of employment.
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