In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama said that creating manufacturing jobs is the nation's "first priority."
To some, this may sound like a throwback to a long-lost era; after all, such jobs are being eliminated, outsourced or automated, right? Not really.
The United States remains a world leader in manufacturing, and that sector remains essential to our economic and technological future.
Here are the five biggest misconceptions about U.S. manufacturing — and why the sector still matters.
1. A manufacturing job is no longer a ticket to the middle class.
There is no doubt that America's manufacturing base has declined, peaking at 19.6 million jobs in 1979 and now at just over 11 million jobs. Despite this economic transition, however, U.S. manufacturing jobs are still worth having. On average, full-time manufacturing work pays 20 percent more than full-time service-sector jobs. In my recent travels across the country, I met electronic technicians with only a high school diploma who had risen through the ranks of manufacturing companies to earn more than $100,000 a year. High school grads in retail or service-sector jobs rarely reach six figures.
Of course, manufacturing alone cannot solve our unemployment problem. For the foreseeable future, the lion's share of America's job growth will be in the service sector. By 2014, employment in services is expected to reach 129 million jobs, with education and health care growing most quickly. Still, there are lucrative careers available in manufacturing. And Obama's State of the Union proposal to create manufacturing hubs across the country — "to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs" — will generate opportunities for young Americans with an aptitude for making things.
2. We can outsource manufacturing as long as product design stays here.