The picture of manufacturing's future in America is coming into focus, and it's not pretty. A region like the Midwest, that hopes its glory days of industrial power will come back, should take heed.
The signs are everywhere, especially in the collapse of manufacturing employment when the recession began and the slow recovery since then. But some recent articles highlighted the changing nature of manufacturing -- the growing use of robots to do jobs that men and women used to do, the increasing ability of corporations to hammer down wages and benefits, and a growing skepticism about the much-vaunted shortage of highly-skilled manufacturing workers and the willingness of companies to pay for them.
If there's a link in these stories, it's the global economy and its impact on manufacturing. Much manufacturing has gone overseas, forcing Midwestern workers to compete for jobs with workers in China and other countries making one-tenth as much as they do. Employers who don't want to pay American-style wages but are dissatisfied with Chinese-style quality have two choices -- push down wages or turn to robots, which never take coffee breaks and don't get pensions.
Both are happening.