In the years since the COVID-19 recession of early 2020, manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have recovered quicker than ever seen in modern history.
Peaking in 1979, U.S. manufacturing reached something of a precipice in the 1980s.
The U.S. remained a goods-producing country. While output was relatively steady, fewer Americans were employed to mine metals, assemble automobiles, and piece together military technology for the defense sector by the decade’s end.
But from the mid-20th century through 2000, America was shedding jobs in manufacturing and gaining jobs in its service sector—now a hallmark sector of the country’s economy next to its highly advanced tech sector.
The 1980s kicked off with dual recessions—not unlike today’s trying economic conditions stoked by a war of resources abroad and tightening monetary policy aimed at combating high inflation. Where manufacturing work represented almost 1 in 3 jobs in America at the time, by 1982, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression had devastated goods-producing jobs.
The manufacturing sector accounted for an outsized 90% of the job losses, according to historical Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The biggest losses at the time were suffered in the mining industry, where 3 in 5 workers with jobs related to extracting critical resources such as iron and copper were laid off.
Today, manufacturing employment is well below the nearly 20 million it reached in 1979. But jobs reached nearly 13 million based on preliminary data for November 2022—more than recovering from the COVID-19 slump and reaching the highest level of employment in the sector since 2009.
How did the U.S. manage it, and is the country amid a new era for domestic manufacturing?
Get It Made analyzed BLS Current Employment Statistics data to look at the recent surges in manufacturing employment and charted those against a timeline of events that have contributed to more manufacturing jobs being added over the past decade. The BLS data is based on a survey, so true employment values may vary.