There was a time not long ago when manufacturing jobs were the gateway to the middle class for millions of American workers.
That’s no longer the case, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
According to Manufacturing Low Pay: Declining Wages in the Jobs That Built the Middle Class, the median average pay for manufacturing workers was once higher than the median average for other private sector employees.
In 2007, median average manufacturing pay slipped to $0.17 an hour below median average pay in the private sector and has continued to decline.
In 2013, that gap had grown to $0.85 an hour.
“If the wage trends continue, manufacturing jobs will not deliver on the promise of creating livable (wage) jobs with positive economic revivals in communities and families,” reads Manufacturing Low Pay.
The report also finds that many people perceive that manufacturing jobs are good paying jobs and are willing to support government subsidies to manufacturers in order to bring these jobs to their communities.
But the reality is that communities that invest public money to attract new manufacturing plants could see their investment end up creating jobs that don’t pay a living wage.
According to the report, nearly one-quarter of the production jobs in the manufacturing sector pay $11.61 an hour or less, just a little more than $24,000 a year.
That’s only 120 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three.
The median wage for all manufacturing production jobs is $15.66 an hour, or about $32,600 a year, about 160 percent of the federal poverty level.
“The manufacturing section helped build America’s middle class, and its spending in our economy fuels America,” said Cindy Estrada, vice president of the United Auto Workers. “But as this report makes clear, we can no longer take for granted that your grandfather’s manufacturing job will provide the same path to the middle class.”
Even the wages of better paying manufacturing jobs have declined because they have failed to keep up with inflation.
Manufacturing workers in 2013 were making on average $1.00 less in inflation adjusted dollars than they were in 2003.
“For a manufacturing worker, who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that translates to a drop in income of about $2,000 a year,” reads the report.
Unfortunately, there is more bad news.
The decline in manufacturing wages is even worse when the wages of temporary workers provided by staffing agencies are considered.
During the last 25 years, more manufacturing companies are relying more on these workers to fill production jobs.
Between 1989 and 2000, temporary staffing agency workers assigned to manufacturing grew from 419,000 to 1.4 million and “data suggests that this trend continues.”
In 1990, 42 percent of staffing agency jobs were office jobs and 28 percent were factory jobs.
By 2006, 44 percent of staffing agency jobs were factory jobs.
According to the report, “Industrial and factory staffing now form the single largest source of revenue for the staffing industry.”
Workers placed in factories by staffing agencies are paid “lower wages and (receive) fewer benefits. . . compared (to) direct hires,” reads the report. And these temporary jobs “offer limited opportunities to secure a permanent-employee position.”
The auto industry is one particular sector of the country’s manufacturing base that has seen wages decline dramatically.
In inflation adjusted dollars, auto assembly workers have seen their wages drop 21 percent in the last ten years. In 2003, the average auto worker made $31.45 an hour in 2013 dollars. By 2013, the average wage was $24.83 an hour.
The decline of wages in the auto parts industry is less steep but still alarming. Average pay is down 13.73 percent since 2003.
The average pay in an auto parts plant is $15.83 or about $33,000 a year.
““The dirty little secret this report reveals is that, more often than we realize, companies simply aren’t delivering on the good manufacturing jobs they promise our communities,” said Estrada. “We meet workers every day who are stuck in exactly the kinds of jobs described in this report – ones that pay barely enough to support a family and that remain ‘temporary’ for months or even years on end.”