The nation’s factories have added 250,000 jobs since the beginning of last year — about 13 percent of what was lost during the recent recession — marking the first sustained increase in manufacturing employment since 1997.
But the new hiring also reflects another emerging reality of U.S. manufacturing: Many of the jobs don’t pay anything close to what they used to. Assembly-line workers who will be making the EdenPure products under the auspices of Suarez Corp. Industries will start at $7.50 an hour.
That’s a far cry from the $20 an hour that most workers made with Hoover, which shifted its century-old production lines to Mexico and El Paso in 2007 after concluding that it was too expensive to make its products in the industrial Midwest.
“The communities and workers in Ohio have been devastated over the past decade and are grateful for the opportunity to earn a living,” said Robert Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Council. “But this is tempered by reality. One is that the jobs at Suarez, with wages and benefits well below the middle-class ones that were there before, are not a replacement for the ones that left.”
Behind the recovery
The Rust Belt’s nascent recovery is being fueled by a host of factors, including a revitalized auto sector, innovations that have made workers more productive, and a weakened dollar, which makes American products more appealing for export.
Lower labor costs are also a critical factor. But many of the prospective workers who braved a cold rain Monday outside the old Hoover plant for a shot at a job with benefits did not complain.
“I was a little disappointed about the rate of pay,” said Leslee Valentine, 52, who rushed down to the factory after hearing about the job fair on the news. “But right now I’m on unemployment, so it looks pretty good. There is always that opportunity to move up.”
Wilmer Miller, 50, who previously has worked as a plumber, was similarly upbeat.
“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “You got to have a job, and you got to have a paycheck. I’ll take a little less to have those things. It’s good to see something open up.”
The Rust Belt’s fortunes have been one of the bright spots of a mostly shaky recovery. Nationally, manufacturing output grew at an estimated annual rate of 9.1 percent in the first three months of the year, while the overall economy expanded by just 1.8 percent, according to Federal Reserve figures.
“Everybody had written off the manufacturing sector and the Rust Belt, but now the manufacturing sector is the shining star of the U.S. recovery,” said Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan at Flint and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.