There is constant talk of “bringing manufacturing jobs back to America” as if it is some magic cure-all to a poor economy. There’s no doubt the past few decades have seen manufacturing jobs outsourced at a record pace and that certainly has played a part in the recession. But while it might be nice to think about those jobs coming back, they’re not going to. The sooner the United States accepts that, the sooner it can move on to something less futile.
Let’s be honest: There is very little incentive for companies to shift their production plants back to American soil. Why would they pay American workers $20 an hour when they can pay foreign workers a 10th of that?
I’ve never been convinced of the quality argument. Sure, American production might be of higher quality (though I’m skeptical of just how much) but when output of a given product numbers in the thousands, quantity over quality becomes very much a reality – and a reasonable one at that. Manufacturers are getting by just fine with foreign labor and I don’t think Americans are going to start working for $2 an hour any time soon.
Which brings me to another point: Even looking past wages, would Americans really want these manufacturing jobs? It seems ludicrous to suggest that the country wouldn’t welcome any jobs whole-heartedly and in theory a return of manufacturing jobs is a huge boost to the American psyche.
But I have this feeling that because these jobs have been outsourced for so long and the U.S. economy has shifted toward a service industry, there would be the predilection to “look down” on these manufacturing jobs. Americans won’t want to work the “low-brow, blue-collar” factory jobs. There is a tendency of Americans to think they’re better than that and even in a rough economy, pride is something nearly impossible to strip away.
I want to be clear that I am not making the claim that manufacturing jobs are in any way lower quality than others – my father works one – I simply believe Americans as a collective tend to have that mindset.
I realize the recent revival of the American auto industry seems to contradict my entire argument, but I think the auto sector is one where quality does in fact matter more than quantity. Production that requires more than just the most basic of operations is something America should focus on; give up on trying to bring back jobs that have already left and focus on starting up and developing manufacturing that actually requires American ingenuity.
This means putting more into the already booming tech industry and – no matter how much of a cliché it has become – the “green,” eco-industry. These are manufacturing jobs that are tailored to American workers. They require a level of skill and knowledge beyond the simple production of goods. They are jobs that require workers earn a high wage. They are jobs in which an individual can have a vested interest.
The country needs to stop holding on to the idea of outsourced manufacturing jobs coming back and direct its attention to newer, higher-skilled industries. There’s no sense in holding onto the past.