The United States makes more manufactured goods today than at any time in history, as measured by the dollar value of production adjusted for inflation — three times as much as in the mid-1950s, the supposed heyday of American industry. Between 1977 and 2005, the value of American manufacturing swelled from $1.3 trillion to an all-time record $4.5 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for almost one-fourth of global manufacturing, a share that has changed little in decades. The United States is the largest manufacturing economy by far. Japan, the only serious rival for that title, has been losing ground. China has been growing but represents only about one-tenth of world manufacturing.


Throughout the state, and indeed the nation, laid-off factory workers are typically able to find new jobs but mostly for lower pay. A June 2002 study published by the North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center found that workers who lost manufacturing jobs in 1999 and 2000 were earning 72 percent of their previous salaries six months later.

What can we learn from this? For starters, American jobs are not so much disappearing overseas, and the US is not moving away from being an industrial economy. The disappearance of US manufacturing jobs appears to have more to do with technological progress than outsourcing (though outsourcing does play role).

However, many (most?) workers are being left behind by technological progress. I’d put at least some of the blame on the education system, and ranted about it a few years ago.