The geography of U.S. manufacturing

at 10:35 AM ET, 05/09/2012

Since 2010, manufacturing jobs have made a very modest comeback in the United States — although not nearly enough to reverse a long, three-decade slide. (Between 1979 and 2010, the U.S. economy lost 7.9 million manufacturing jobs; since then, it’s gained just 350,000.)

So what jobs still remain? The Brookings Institution has a fascinating new report on the geography of U.S. manufacturing jobs that delves into this topic, and a few charts stand out. First, here’s a look at the composition of U.S. manufacturing jobs, as of 2010. Note that food manufacturing has become the biggest single sector in terms of jobs:

Brookings also has a series of interactive maps that reveal where the manufacturing jobs are actually located. Most of them are still clustered in large metropolitan areas:

As the authors of the report, Susan Helper, Timothy Krueger and Howard Wial find, the vast majority of U.S. manufacturing jobs — about 79.5 percent — are located in large metropolitan areas. The numbers are even higher for high-tech manufacturing, which is particularly dependent on dense clusters of workers and suppliers.

What’s more, many cities tend to specialize strongly in a particular type of manufacturing. The six most common clusters are computers and electronics, transportation equipment, low-wage manufacturing, chemicals, machinery, and food production. For example, just 20 cities around the country specialize almost exclusively in chemical manufacturing — including, most prominently, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The authors also find that the rapid flight of U.S. manufacturing jobs to the South appears to have halted of late. Between 1980 and 2000, the Northeast and Midwest United States were shedding manufacturing jobs, while the South and West saw an increase in employment. (The West gained many of the high-tech jobs, while the South specialized in lower-wage manufacturing.) That trend seems to have stopped for now. All manufacturing regions lost jobs at a roughly equal rate during the recession. And, since 2010, the Midwest has been adding manufacturing jobs twice as fast as the rest of the country.

Note: In the first chart above, “other” includes furniture, electrical equipment, wood products, pharmaceuticals, beverage and tobacco, transportation equipment other than aerospace and motor vehicles and parts, apparel, textile and textile product mills, petroleum and coal products, and leather.

 
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