Since President Donald Trump made bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. one of his main priorities, debate has raged over what has caused the loss of millions of factory jobs since the late 1990s, and what can be done to stop the hemorrhaging.
Trade liberalization has played a significant role as companies shift work to lower-cost countries. China’s rise as a global manufacturing behemoth (not to mention U.S. consumers’ ceaseless demand for Chinese-produced goods) has certainly inflicted its share of damage.
Technological changes to the manufacturing workplace, including robots and advanced logistics systems, have also played an important role, if not the primary one.
“The employment effects of automation are being exaggerated,” Scott Paul, president of the Washington D.C.-based Alliance for American Manufacturing, told Salon. “But I will say that technology and automation have changed the factory floor; they’ve fundamentally altered how many people are needed to produce the same amount, or …