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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

David Wessel’s Corrective on Manufacturing Employment



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A few weeks ago, David Wessel wrote an excellent column on America’s manufacturing comeback and why it might deliver the job gains many are hoping for:

Modern factory jobs, many of which require more brainpower and computer know-how than muscle, often pay well and are secure. Research and development—the key to maintaining the U.S. edge in innovation—sometimes migrate abroad when production does, a good reason to strive to keep production at home.

But manufacturing employment isn’t going to grow nearly enough to return the U.S. to full employment. It isn’t going to be the chief source of jobs for the next quarter-century. And, given the demands of the modern factory, it isn’t going to be the ticket to the middle class for unskilled workers who haven’t gone beyond high school. Pretending otherwise is foolish.

I’ve never shared the belief that manufacturing jobs should are somehow more valuable than, say, jobs in tradable knowledge-intensive services, but it is widely held. 



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