The people at Good Jobs First are out with an update to their nifty subsidy tracker, which makes it easy to figure out the dollar value of incentives granted to companies by state and local governments over the years. Guess who's on top? Boeing, which has received $13.2 billion, driven primarily by gigantic tax abatements from Washington State -- even as the company moved more and more jobs away.
Boeing isn't the only manufacturing company to rake in the cash. General Motors, Fiat and Ford (whose now-independent foundation sponsored the report*) also fall within the top 10, along with extractive industrial corporations such as Alcoa and Royal Dutch Shell. That's a little odd, the report notes, considering how precipitously manufacturing employment has fallen in recent decades, both in absolute terms...
...and as a percentage of the workforce (except for a little bounce toward the end there, which economists tend to attribute to the U.S. natural gas boom).
Perhaps it makes sense that states would fight ever more fiercely over a declining number of jobs. And manufacturing jobs are generally seen as better than most, with solid wages that can build a middle-class life. Still, their wages haven't kept pace with the average, and they've fallen way behind even non-supervisory positions in fields like education, health and professional and business services (though they're still ahead of retail).
Of course, Americans have something of a sentimental attachment to the assembly line, judging by the number of times you've heard politicians lament that "we don't make things in America anymore." As Derek Thompson and Gary Becker have pointed out, it's not like the federal government launched a campaign to save farm jobs as industrial agriculture replaced humans with machines. Walmart certainly seems to have figured that out, with its wistful spot touting its reinvestment in U.S. manufacturing entitled "I am a factory":
Work is a beautiful thing, as the narrator intones in a gravelly voice. But local lawmakers in positions to grant tax breaks might want to think about whether one kind of work is more beautiful than another -- and if weakened industries are to return, whether they should do so on the basis of fundamental economic conditions or because government gives them a handout.
* Edited to reflect the fact that the Ford Foundation now has no relationship with Ford Motor Company.