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Where have the manufacturing jobs gone as U.S. factories closed?

EJ Jenkins works at US Steel Gary Works. The local community in Gary, Indiana has suffered from the loss of manufacturing jobs as factories have closed.

Where have all the factory jobs gone?

The U.S. has lost more than 5 million manufacturing jobs within the past 25 years, hindering the financial mobility of workers without a college degree and taking a particularly heavy toll on workers of color, according to a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. At the same time, low-wage service jobs have soared.

"All workers, and especially Black and brown workers were hurt by the loss of more than 5 million manufacturing jobs in this period,'' says Robert Scott, senior economist at EPI and co-author of the report that evaluated data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Commission.

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The jobs have shifted overseas as some U.S. companies offshore positions to countries where labor is cheaper, the U.S. imports more than it exports to several trading partners, and tasks once performed by people are taken over by automation, workforce experts say.

Here are key details from the new report. To learn more, here is the complete USA TODAY analysis. 

What is the hourly pay for manufacturing jobs?

In June 2021, the average hourly pay was $29.93 compared with $28.14 in service industries according to EPI's analysis of current employment statistics and employment cost trends data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How many jobs did Black workers lose in the manufacturing sector?

Black workers lost 646,500 jobs in the manufacturing sector between 1998 and 2020 – a 30.4% drop. 

Did white workers also lose factory jobs?

White workers saw an even steeper decline, with their rate of employment in the manufacturing sector plunging 37.3%. But that drop was due in part to white workers becoming a smaller share of the overall labor force, slipping to 62% from roughly 74%, Scott says

A smokestack rises above part of the old Twinkie factory.

What jobs have replaced factory work?

As factory jobs disappear, the number of lower-wage service jobs has soared, growing by nearly 30 million since 1998, according to the EPI report. In addition to lower pay, those jobs typically offer slighter benefits as well.    

How much more do factory jobs pay? 

White workers without a college degree who are earning the median wage make 29% more per year in factory jobs than in other industries, while their Black counterparts see a pay boost of 17.9%, according to the EPI analysis.

Why has the loss of factory jobs hit Black and Latino workers harder?

Black, Latino and other workers of color have been especially hard hit by the shrinking number of manufacturing jobs because they are overrepresented among those who don't have a higher degree, and have historically had more difficulty getting better paying jobs in other industries because of discrimination, the EPI report says.  

"Rebalancing trade and rebuilding infrastructure offers a historic opportunity to create millions of good jobs for Black, brown and other workers of color, and women, who were the victims of systemic racism and discrimination, and (had) lack of access to educational resources and opportunities for advancement,'' Scott says.

Contributing: Kelly Tyko

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