Traditionally, manufacturing jobs paid well, at least for jobs that didn’t require a college education. They were a foundation of America’s broad middle class. But no more. There’s been an obvious trend in low-wage, non-union manufacturing jobs, and now, the Washington Post rounds up some of the depressing numbers:
U.S. manufacturers have added a half-million new workers since the end of 2009, making the sector one of the few bright spots in an otherwise weak recovery. And yet there were 4 percent fewer union factory workers in 2012 than there were in 2010, according to federal survey data. On balance, all of the job gains in manufacturing have been non-union. […]It used to be that factory jobs paid substantially better than other jobs in the private sector, particularly for workers who didn’t go to college. That’s less true today, especially for non-union workers in the industry, who earn salaries that are about 7 percent lower than similar workers who are represented by a union.
By one measure — average hourly earnings — a typical manufacturing worker now earns less than a typical private-sector worker of any industry. Throughout the 30 years before the recession, the reverse was the case. […]
The typical non-union factory worker earned less in 2011, after adjusting for inflation, than he or she did in 2009.
Proponents of this trend say that becoming a low-wage nation is the way for the United States to compete globally. They try to dress it up, but that’s what it boils down to: Let’s compete with China for bad pay and long hours. For unions, the rise of low-wage manufacturing once again highlights the importance of improving conditions for workers in even lower-wage occupations like retail and fast food—if you raise standards in these industries, low-wage manufacturing won’t look as good by comparison.
Laura Clawson is labor reporter for Daily Kos, where this post first appeared.