The transformation of raw materials through mechanical, physical, or chemical processes into a new product is the definition of manufacturing in the U.S. These businesses include plants, mills, factories, and warehouses and they rely on power-driven equipment to produce their products.
Small businesses and home-based businesses are included in the scope of U.S. manufacturing - this includes sectors like tailor-made clothing, bakeries, candy stores, or toy/crafts creators. Additionally, companies that contract with the businesses in these industries are included in the sector of American manufacturing. It is worth noting: U.S. manufacturing does not include anything relating to housing or commercial construction.
Manufacturing Importance and the U.S. Economy
We are a nation built with the hands of manufacturers.
American manufacturing is a quintessential industry and the envy of much of the world. Well, it certainly was in past decades. Currently, manufacturing in the U.S. is at a bit of an inflection point, but the importance of manufacturing in the U.S. cannot be understated. 11.39% of the U.S. GDP - the overall output of the American economy - is from manufacturing. This number remains in the 11 - 14% range, regardless of which decade you look at.
Manufacturing is so important to the American economy that jobs that aren’t even structured in the physical production process still benefit from the fruits of the manufacturer’s labor. Every $1 spent in manufacturing adds $2.47 to the economy.
The big number is $2,334 billion. That’s the total dollar amount of manufacturing output from U.S. manufacturers in 2018 (the last year we have complete data for). This $2,334 billion worth of economical benefit was put into play across the 248,039 manufacturing firms in the United States.
Current Manufacturing Statistics and Trends in America
The blunt truth - that we will break down into specifics in just a moment - is that the total number of manufacturing jobs in the United States is declining, has been declining, and will likely continue to decline. A general number that will paint the picture perfectly: in the 1950s, manufacturing jobs were 30% of the United States’ workforce. They now account for about 9%.
Labor focus has shifted into service-based models like healthcare and banking.
Another hard truth is that America is no longer the leader in manufacturing exports or market share, at least. China leads in these categories now and that’s a trend that is poised to carry on into the foreseeable future.
In 1970, China was the world’s fifth-largest manufacturer while the United States was absolutely dominating. China surpassed the U.S. in 2010 and is not looking back. They export $2,643,377 million (18.4% of their gross domestic product) worth of manufactured goods every year compared to the United States total of $2,498,032 million (11.7% of our gross domestic product).
This brings us to another important trend in manufacturing: globalization and the effect of tariffs, international trade, and political pressure on the competitiveness of the industry.
China is powerful. Their strength in manufacturing (especially electronic products) is creating an imbalance of global economic trade deals. Make no mistake - the U.S. is in a trade war and China is in the crosshairs.
China was targeted specifically during Donald Trump’s “America First” policy in which tariffs were placed on goods like steel, solar panels, aluminum, wine, and others. These tariffs place a sizable tax on companies looking to do business with China.
But it wasn’t just trading with the other side of the globe that was affected during Donald Trump’s administration. Free trade amongst our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, was also altered.
Certain private sector analysts concluded that the impacts of NAFTA increased the United States trade deficit with the two nations from 17 billion to 177 billion over the course of 1993-2013. This displaced as many as 851,700 jobs in the U.S.
NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was replaced in 2018 when the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) was enacted. The primary reasons were automobile exports, steel and aluminum tariffs, and the poultry market. Economists applaud the USMCA for its crackdown on working environment improvements - but aside from that, it isn’t a whole lot different than NAFTA as far as trade policies are concerned.
Now, that doesn’t mean the U.S. manufacturing industry is not doing well - not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. Output is up. U.S. manufacturing is creating more than we ever have before. It’s just that it’s being done with fewer and fewer humans, year after year. How can that be?
There are a host of options to explain the decrease in employees in U.S. manufacturing while output continues to soar. Technology, in short, is a huge factor.
Industry 4.0 technology like automation, cloud computing, industrial robotics, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things are all coming to fruition in real time; making manufacturing processes easier and easier while making humans less and less necessary. In the same way that computers and smartphones revolutionized the communication industry, technology is doing the same to manufacturing. Here’s the prevalent technology that manufacturers are adopting all over the country:
Your knee-jerk reaction here might be to imagine robots moving in the way humans do on an assembly line. And that exists, and we’ll get there soon. But automation is much more than robotics. Low-level employees producing remedial tasks can often be automated, or outsourced to a digital worker overseas. A digital worker completes low-skill tasks on contract from an outside firm. It’s an efficient form of automation. In-house data entry is another major task that no longer calls for a human.
Cloud-hosted services will hold nearly 50% of all organizational-level software use amongst manufacturers by the year 2023. So...tomorrow, essentially. About 66% of all manufacturing enterprises, across 17 nations, are already implementing cloud-based technology. The benefits of cloud computing include security, flexibility, reducing manufacturing costs, insight, quality control, increased communication and collaboration, disaster recovery, loss prevention, automatic software updates, and an overall competitive edge. Especially for early adopters.
Cloud computing is implemented in three main ways: software as a service (SAAS), platform as a service (PLAS), and infrastructure as a service (IFAS).
This is the type of automation that’s really creating the biggest results. Six different types of industrial robots are carrying the load for the industry in terms of innovation and overall production. They are articulated robots, cartesian robots, cylindrical robots, SCARA robots, parallel robots, and collaborative industry robots.
Also known as the smart manufacturing revolution. Many products that we already buy and use every day were manufactured with the help of artificial intelligence. Computer vision software monitors safety and compliance via integrated photo capturing devices. Inventory levels are optimized by implementing accurate algorithms that can pivot continually. Value chain data is analyzed by artificial intelligence - pointing out weak spots, improving maintenance turnaround time, and creating margins. The AI revolution is well underway.
Industrial Internet of Things
The average factory in America is over 25 years old. The machines and equipment inside these dated factories are usually over 9 years old themselves. The Industrial Internet of Things is a crucial tool to extend the lifetime of these existing factors. By monitoring machine utilization - saving energy when the machine isn’t needed, maximizing output when it is - it is estimated that IoT applications will increase manufacturing productivity growth by anywhere from 10-25%. Additionally, IoT’s capabilities will create up to $1.8 trillion in worldwide economic value by 2025.
Manufacturing Workforce Statistics
According to our friends at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are currently about 12.2 million people employed in the U.S. manufacturing industry in 2021. In 1945, there were also about 12.2 million people employed in manufacturing. The obvious difference is that back then, we had a national population of 140 million people. Today - it’s more like 340 million.
The peak of jobs in manufacturing in the United States was in 1979 - with 19.3 million people employed in American manufacturing.
Manufacturing’s share of employment in the country continues a steady decline that’s been carrying on for over half a century now. Employment in the manufacturing sector in 2020 was 9.6% less than it was in 2006. And it doesn’t look like that trend will see a reversal, either.
This downward slide reflects a larger trend in U.S. manufacturing since the 1950s or so. Overall manufacturing has equated to about 11% to 14% of real GDP since the 1940s, but the share of employment in the economy has not been so lucky. In the early 1950s, about one-third of all jobs in the United States were in manufacturing. 30% or more of all jobs in America were in manufacturing!
It felt like they would never disappear - everyone wanted a factory job.
But - it’s been all downhill since then. Manufacturing’s share of U.S. employment sunk below 10% in 2010 and will likely never rise above that mark again.
Some estimates expect the employment in production-related sectors to decline by as much as 4% more from 2019 to 2029. Job losses are a major factor.
Specifically - metal and plastic machine workers can plan on about 7% of their jobs disappearing in the next ten years, and assemblers/fabricators can expect an 11% decline in job losses over the same time period. For certain sectors in U.S. manufacturing - the outlook is bleak.
Unions are an important factor in manufacturing. Currently, 8.5% of all manufacturing workers are members of a union. 9.3% of all manufacturing workers are represented by a union. Remember - If you are a member of a union then you have the right to vote on any business pertaining to the union (voting on officials, negotiation issues, collective bargaining agreement input, etc.). If you are not a member of a union but work in an industry that is represented by a union, then the union will represent you without your voting.
Unemployment rates for manufacturing jobs sit around 5.2% today. That number is about average over the last 20 years. Two peaks of 12.5% or higher unemployment took place in 2009/2010 as well as more recently in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic keeping people out of work. The industry has rebounded rather well over the past few months.
So far in 2021, there’s an average of about 500 new job openings in U.S. manufacturing every month. Compare that to the roughly 420 jobs lost per month over the last 10 years and you can see that there’s little to no room for growth in manufacturing employment.
There’s also a major shift in how workers are working. The world of remote work.
We’ve never seen a bigger shift of workplaces than we did in 2020. In 2019, 3.4% of the U.S. workforce worked from home, or remotely. By the end of 2020 - that number skyrocketed to 88%. But - manufacturing is a different beast because it requires the physical world. Employees must be present to make products. This can’t be phoned in.
On any given team, about one-quarter to one-half of manufacturing employees are non-production staff. We can expect to see an increase in these employee’s remote work opportunities. This transition to keeping non-necessary employees out of the factory will only increase the reliance on Industry 4.0 technology like cloud computing for streamlined communication and collaboration.
With this shift in the workplace comes a shift in the workforce.
Computing and automation are on the rise, but it isn’t as all-inclusive as it’s talked up to be. Humans are still the driving force, and always will be. Someone’s got to man the machine.
But to man the machine, the workforce needs to know how. That’s the biggest gap in the workforce currently - skills. Over the next decade, highly-trained and technologically proficient individuals will have an opportunity to fill roles like digital twin engineer, smart factory manager, mechatronics engineer, predictive supply chain analyst, robotic technician, and more.
These seem like IT roles, not manufacturing jobs. But they are. This is the new look of manufacturing in the United States.
Manufacturing Salary Statistics
The average manufacturing employee earns $29.15 per hour, and works 40.5 hours per week. So, the average manufacturing salary is roughly $60,000 annually. But - that is the average, not the reality for many employees.
For non-supervisory/production positions (the bulk of the workforce) that number looks more like $23.28 per hour - which equates to roughly $48,000 annually. This is according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Specifically, it breaks down like this:
Production workers earn $32,680 annually, inspectors/samplers/testers earn $44,590 annually, machinists earn $47,330 annually, purchasing agents earn $70,430 annually, and team assemblers earn $37,320 annually. The average number of vacation days in the manufacturing industry is 18.
The good news here is that this trend, among many economic trends in manufacturing, is heading in the right direction. Total compensation for U.S. manufacturing employees is going up. 10 years ago, the average rate was about $23.50/hour. 5 years ago, the average rate was about $25.75/hour. 3 years ago, the average rate was about $27.00/hour. Today, it’s $29.15/hour.
Manufacturing productivity has stalled in recent years. While the industry enjoyed a steady incline of productivity output from 1987 until 2007, that trend nearly bottomed out from 2007 - 2020. At its recent peak, U.S. manufacturing was 4.4% more productive from 2000-2007 than it was in the ten years prior to that. This is saying something because, in those ten years (1990-2000), the industry was 3.8% more productive than the years prior.
But from 2007 until 2020, American manufacturing saw nearly no gain in productivity. The industry was a mere .4% more productive in those years. This is a trend we expect to rebound greatly, with the value of Industry 4.0 technology set to make gains in manufacturing productivity.
When viewing productivity by industry, manufacturing’s productivity seems a bit volatile. For instance, non-farm business sector productivity enjoys a constant 1.5 - 2.8% gain in almost every decade since the 1940s.
American Manufacturing Facts
What Does the U.S. Manufacture?
The clear leader in manufacturing in the United States is chemical products. The chemical industry produces about $350,000 million annually. Following chemicals, the second and third place industries are about equal. Computer/electronic parts and food, beverage, and tobacco products both produce about $280,000 million annually. Motor vehicles/parts, fabricated metal products, machinery, and aerospace industries all produce about $150,000 million annually. Petroleum/coal products, miscellaneous manufacturing, and plastic/rubber products round out the top ten and produce about $100,000 annually.
The number-one product manufactured by the number-one industry (chemicals) is sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is produced in quantities of over 35 million tons per year by United States manufacturers. It is a colorless and odorless liquid that is corrosive. Mainly used to manufacture agricultural fertilizers, sulfuric acid is also found in dyes, antifreeze, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and more.
Who Are the Top Manufacturers in the U.S.?
- Chevron - We’ve all pumped some gas at a Chevron station before. But providing your tank with some gas is just one faction of Chevron’s manufacturing prowess. The multinational energy corporation generated $141,722 million in review and experienced a 23.8% revenue growth in 2017 across its efforts in producing and transporting crude oil and natural gas as well as its chemical and mining operations, energy services, and power generation in almost every country in the world.
- General Motors Co. - One of the premier auto manufacturers in the world, GM is operating in 35 or more countries currently. Its major subsidiaries are Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, and Buick - each of which has had a best-selling car to its name in the past few decades. Over 180,000 employees work at any of the 400+ facilities across the globe. GM created $145,588 million in revenue in 2017. Their next major manufacturing innovation is electric-car design and manufacturing.
- Ford Motor Co. - The rival to General Motors, Ford holds the rest of the majority market share in automotive manufacturing. Ford creates 6.7 million cars annually at any of its 90+ manufacturing plants across the globe. Ford generated revenue growth of 3.28% in 2017.
- Apple, Inc. - Any time a business surpasses the $1 trillion market capitalization mark, that’s probably one of the top manufacturers in the world. We all know the products Apple manufactures and sells - you might even be reading this using one of them. But the future holds augmented reality for Apple. How that will incorporate, we can only wait to find out. Apple made $229,234 million in revenue in 2017 while it grew revenue by 6.30%.
- Exxon Mobil Corp. - The largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world also holds the largest market cap in its sector. In 2017, Exxon Mobil Corp. made $244,363 million while growing its revenue by 8.08% due to its successes in manufacturing commodity petrochemicals as well as the production, transportation, and sale of crude oil and natural gas.
How Many Factories Are There in the U.S.?
So what does manufacturing in the United States look like, physically? Well, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis - 579,811 is the number of manufacturing businesses in the United States as of 2021 early reports. This is a .7% decline from the year prior. The number remains about steady over the course of the last 5 years, however. 14,000 of these businesses are represented by the National Association of Manufacturers.
Overall, there are 292,825 factories in the United States.
The vast majority of these factories (268,000) feature 99 or fewer employees. There are 846 factories that employ 1,000 or more employees in America.
What Percentage of the U.S. Economy is Manufacturing?
11.39% of the U.S. economy is manufacturing. This number has remained in the 11-14% mark since the dawn of manufacturing and is estimated to continue although the total number of jobs is dwindling. This speaks to the manufacturer’s ability to create products with fewer human hands on deck.
How is American Manufacturing Doing?
As far as output is concerned - America is doing just fine. As far as exports are concerned - America is doing just fine. As far as manufacturing of nondurable products is concerned - America is doing just fine.
But if employment is the metric by which you're measuring the success of American manufacturing - then America isn’t doing so great.
The unfortunate reality is that as American manufacturing companies continue to innovate their processes to maximize their output while minimizing their payroll - which is made possible through Industry 4.0 technology - then the value of manufactured goods will continue to rise in step with decreased jobs in manufacturing. This isn't just an American trend either - you will see this in global manufacturing in countries like Japan and the United Kingdom. As businesses grow ever more aware of how to slash costs and increase margins innovatively, the economics of American manufacturing will always play out in favor of the business.
America has lost its grip on global market leadership, which belongs firmly to China now. But the innovation and raw materials will always exist here, so America can never stray too far from the top of the leaderboard.
Improving American Manufacturing
Manufacturing is about to look a lot different than it ever has. The classic image of hundreds of men filing into the production facility, taking up their stations on the assembly line just isn’t relevant anymore. Soon, manufacturing will look more like software design than it does vehicle-building. But that’s how innovation works.
Improving American manufacturing will take place in the gaps that now frustrate the industry. Highly-skilled workers with specific education in roles like digital twin engineering are the future of the industry. But we’re not there yet. We’ve got to bridge that gap because right now, those employees are few and far between. This is going to take an overhaul of education and training as it relates to manufacturing in the U.S.
American manufacturing will always be a dominant force in the economy, both locally and globally. But the manner by which the industry achieves that consistency and dominance is changing. And it’s happening right now.
Are you onboard? Join us in the effort to improve American manufacturing by sharing trends and insights about modern manufacturing and product innovation.