To listen to most pundits and commentators, U.S. manufacturing has turned a corner and is roaring back after the precipitous decline during the 2000s.
Long gone are the dismal days when manufacturing jobs and output were lost due to foreign competition. Higher foreign labor costs, cheap oil and gas here at home and automation are combining to make America the new global manufacturing hub: at least according the now dominant narrative. Indeed, the term “manufacturing renaissance” is used to describe this new state of affairs.
However, as a new ITIF report shows, the data do not support such a rosy scenario. In fact, at the end of 2013 (the most recent year available) real manufacturing value added (the best measure of the health of U.S. manufacturing) was still 3.2 percent below 2007 levels, despite GDP growth of 5.6 percent.
Moreover, there are still two million fewer jobs and 15,000 fewer manufacturing establishments than there were in 2007. Much of the growth since 2010 appears to be caused by a cyclical recovery as demand, particularly for motor vehicles and other durable goods, returns. In fact, 72 percent of jobs gained and 187 percent of the heralded real value added growth in manufacturing between 2010 and 2013 came from transportation sector or primary and fabricated metals.
It is true that some jobs are being brought back to the United States. However, reshoring numbers are modest and the manufacturing sector is also still sending jobs overseas, roughly at the same rate. While this new equilibrium between companies coming and going is certainly an improvement over rapid off-shoring, it is hardly indicative of a renaissance.