“Hollowing Out” in U.S. Manufacturing: Analysis and Issues for Congress
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[Excerpt] Only a small proportion of U.S. workers is now employed in factories, as manufacturers have shifted low-value, labor-intensive production, such as apparel and shoe manufacturing, to other countries. Meanwhile, U.S. factories have stepped up production of goods that require high technological sophistication but relatively little direct labor. Despite highly publicized factory closures, the good-producing capacity of the U.S. economy remains near its all-time peak, as measured by the Federal Reserve Board. Recent data, however, challenge the belief that the manufacturing sector, taken as a whole, will continue to flourish. In particular, statistics showing that domestic value added represents a diminishing share of the value of U.S. factory output have been interpreted by many analysts as indicating that manufacturing is “hollowing out” as U.S. manufacturers undertake more high-value work abroad. Economic data have been slow to take note of this development, which raises the question of whether the United States will continue to generate highly skilled, high-wage jobs related to advanced manufacturing. This report discusses economic evidence related to the “hollowing out” thesis with respect to the manufacturing sector. It then considers the policy implications of the debate.