Lower manufacturing wages are contributing to manufacturing's comeback in the Rust Belt, Michael Fletcher reports in the Washington Post. That will sound to you like good or bad news, depending on whether you put more emphasis on wages or growth. Either way, it's part of a similar trend: The last 30 years have been wonderful for U.S. manufacturing, but less so for U.S. manufacturing workers.
The United States has the mixed fortune of leading the world in not only manufacturing output but also growth in productivity (see chart to left). At the same time, manufacturing's share of total employment has fallen from one in four U.S. jobs in the 1950s to one in ten today. Cheap robot arms and cheap foreign arms make cheap fridges. But all this cost savings comes at the expense of a middle class that used to rely on manufacturing for strong, non-college salaries.
Politicians and pundits trying to claw back manufacturing jobs from bots and Bangalore are asking the tide to stop. But their heart is in the right place. The United States needs better middle class jobs and we can't let a deficit debate gut domestic spending to the point where the United States is pulling back the kind of investments that have created and sustained metro entrepreneurial cultures.