Ro Khanna, a deputy assistant secretary of commerce from 2009 to 2011, is the author of “Entrepreneurial Nation: Why Manufacturing Is Still Key to America’s Future.”
In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama said that creating manufacturing jobs is the nation’s “first priority.” To some, this may sound like a throwback to a long-lost era; after all, such jobs are being eliminated, outsourced or automated, right? Not really. The United States remains a world leader in manufacturing, and that sector remains essential to our economic and technological future. Here are the five biggest misconceptions about U.S. manufacturing — and why the sector still matters.
1. A manufacturing job is no longer a ticket to the middle class.
There is no doubt that America’s manufacturing base has declined, peaking at 19.6 million jobs in 1979 and now at just over 11 million jobs. Despite this economic transition, however, U.S. manufacturing jobs are still worth having. On average, full-time manufacturing work pays 20 percent more than full-time service-sector jobs. In my recent travels across the country, I met electronic technicians with only a high school diploma who had risen through the ranks of manufacturing companies to earn more than $100,000 a year. High school grads in retail or service-sector jobs rarely reach six figures.