Cultural Revolutions

Ignoring Manufacturing

Sen. Ted Kennedy’s alleged “populism” and liberal policymakers’ newfound embrace of states’ rights are comic diversions in the ongoing debate surrounding the federal minimum wage.  But the prize for most absurd should be awarded to Congress, which continues to give the American people the spectacle of political haranguing over an extra 70 cents per hour in wages in 2007.  This, at a time when congressional leaders of both major parties continue to avoid the real issue: the loss of millions of jobs in a private-industry sector (manufacturing) where the average hourly earnings for nonsupervisory personnel in November were $16.91 per hour, which amounts to triple the federal minimum wage.

U.S. manufacturing employment, since its most recent peak nearly nine years ago (March 1998), has declined by 3.4 million jobs, a loss of nearly one in five positions in the sector.  In the current U.S. economic expansion, which started in November 2001, manufacturing employment has declined by nearly 1.7 million jobs, the greatest decline in an expansion in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics time series, which dates to 1939.  By contrast, manufacturing employment fell by 206,000 in the record ten-year expansion between March 1991 and March 2001.  Losses this cycle have occurred in both Durable Goods and Non-Durable Goods Manufacturing.  Some of the states hardest hit are in the industrial...

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