CFL News
November 28, 2011

THE LOST DECADE: Cook County loses 26% of manufacturing jobs

A new analysis show that Cook County was one of the country's worst hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs in the last decade

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Thomas Hargrove

Cook County lost more than a quarter of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, according to a new analysis.

Cook lost some 89,100 jobs, more than any other county in the United States except for Los Angeles County, which saw 113,000 jobs disappear. Detroit’s Wayne County lost 84,000 manufacturing jobs, according to a Scripps Howard News Service tally.

Every county in the Chicago area lost manufacturing jobs in that time span — more than 125,500.

Statewide, Illinois in 2010 had 742,089 manufacturing jobs, a 20 percent decline from 2000, according to U.S. Census figures.

Among the bigger-name casualties: a Motorola plant in Harvard in 2003; a Jay’s Potato chip plant on the South Side in 2007; a Brach’s Candy factory on the West Side in 2003; Replogle Globes announced it was closing its plant in Broadview 2010; Wrigley shuttered its South Ashland plant in 2006.

Across the country, millions of manufacturing jobs have disappeared since 2000, evaporating in a furnace-like blast of economic upheaval.

“It’s been a disaster. We’ve never had a downturn of this scale,” said Bob Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Council. “We have so decimated our internal capacities and infrastructures. Those lost skills translate to the innovations of the future.”

Industrial experts agree American manufacturing has suffered a toxic mix of recession, ferocious global competition and rising production costs. Some also lay blame on higher taxes and too much government regulation.

Although Cook County job losses mirror those of the Midwest, “Illinois’ general business climate is significantly more expensive, making it difficult to compete, and has been extremely volatile,” said Mark Denzler, vice president at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Employers want stability and predictability.”

Denzler said that in the last few years, Illinois manufacturers have been hit with several tax hikes, including last January’s increase in corporate rates. He said the United States and the state “need to implement pro-growth strategies that will encourage manufacturing growth and expansion.”

Despite the job losses, Illinois manufacturers still employ about 600,000 people and account for 13 percent of the state’s economic output, Denzler said.

U.S. factory employment fell from 17.3 million workers in the summer of 2000 to just 11.8 million last July, a drop of nearly 32 percent. There has been a small uptick in manufacturing jobs during the past year, but it doesn’t come close to replacing what has been lost.

Michigan has suffered the worst decline in the total number of manufacturing workers. It had more than 1 million in 2000 and dropped to less than 700,000 a decade later.

Among the other major losers are California, which saw 306,000 production jobs disappear; Ohio, which tallied nearly 282,000 lost jobs; New York, with 231,000; and North Carolina, 225,000.

“We have lost nearly 2.3 million jobs just since the recession began in 2007,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers. “Manufacturing combined with construction accounted for the bulk of the jobs that we lost in the recession.”

Dozens of smaller communities such as Grant County, Ind., suffered relatively worse, however, by losing a higher proportion of their manufacturing jobs. Changes in technology and consumer preferences cut more than half of the 9,400 production jobs in the county, located about 50 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Development of flat-screen imaging closed the Thomson Multimedia television-tube production facility there.

“We’ve lost some high-skilled areas of manufacturing in the U.S. due to a lot of short-sightedness, quite frankly, on our part,” Moutray said. “Had we not lost, say, the LCD picture screen industry, we might have been able to keep those jobs here.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the fastest-declining production job in America is team-assembly-line worker, which dropped nearly 378,000 jobs from 2000 to 2011. Sewing machine operators lost nearly 215,000 jobs; production supervisors saw 214,000 jobs disappear; electronic equipment assemblers lost 186,000, and cutting, punching and press machine operators, 168,000.

Economists warn that it’s important to look at manufacturing with a global perspective. America’s manufacturing job base hasn’t been this low in more than 60 years, but it still remains king of the hill.

“The conventional wisdom out there is that manufacturing is dead. But that’s just not true at all,” Moutray said. “The U.S. produces more goods than any other country in the world. We are No. 1. China is No. 2.”

Only 694 of the nation’s 3,144 counties had increases in the number of manufacturing workers since 2000. And most of those were modest incremental gains of less than 100 workers.

Among the 10 biggest-gaining counties, however, six were in Texas. Nevada, Colorado, Indiana and California had one county each, the Census says.

The fastest-growing type of production job is “food batch makers,” Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

This category grew by more than 29,000 jobs since 2000, followed by a 20,000 increase in water and waste treatment plant operators and a 15,000 increase in meat, poultry and fish “cutters and trimmers.”

Scripps Howard News Service

Contributing: Sun-Times Business Reporter David Roeder