I have a love/hate relationship to journalism. A free press that reports on what’s happening in government and the world is essential to democracy. The business of journalism combined with the journalist’s zeal for uncovering a “big” story lead to things like click bait and use of emotion-laden words in stories and headlines.
A reporter once put a private conversation we had about local schools politics on the front page of the local paper. That one experience shaded my relationships with reporters when I was later involved in the politics. It also has influenced my reporting during 20 years of interviewing people for magazines and this blog. In that time, I have had to retract only one interview. I’ve changed a couple of things when people didn’t realize this is a personal blog where I add opinions to the press releases. A couple of PR people thought I should just reprint their releases verbatim without comment. Well, sorry about that.
I recently had an email conversation with the founder/CEO of a Web-based news site promoted as a to-the-point news source. It was. Then I noticed post-acquisition emotional adjectives and heads. I was disappointed. He was surprised they did such a thing.
So, I wasn’t surprised when I opened Facebook and saw a post by long-time colleague Dan Hebert dissing the LA Times for a story about 2.5-foot waves “slamming” the California coast stemming from the Tonga volcano eruption and ensuing “tsunami”. I am an inland boy, but I don’t think 2.5-foot waves in the Pacific Ocean “slam” into much of anything.
At about the same time, my copy of the RAM Review newsletter arrived with a lead article from Bob Williamson dissing on another news source taking unresearched statistics (see my article on The Data Detective) about manufacturing.
I grimace when major-newspaper editorialists beat up on manufacturing because of workers leaving, excessive job openings, and an overall decline in jobs. They are looking at data. What do they know about how manufacturing works? And what do they really know about this major economic machine that produces 10.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) here in the U.S.? Let’s go beyond those numbers and look at manufacturing pre- and post-COVID-19.
“The manufacturing workforce is shrinking,” a recent headline screamed. When we look at the peak of manufacturing (July 1979), there were 19,531,000 employed. As of Dec. 2021, there were 12,580,000 employed in manufacturing. That is clearly a HUGE decline (by the numbers). But what really happened? This is what happened: a total of five, yes five, economic recessions since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Manufacturing employment declined in each of them.
After those economic recessions, manufacturing kicked into high gear (again) at some of the highest rates in recent history. A 2014 Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) report update said it best: “Manufacturing is growing, even when manufacturing jobs are not. What is the explanation? A prime candidate is productivity growth.” And this continues to be true today.
This statement in the newspaper article also got my attention: “Manufacturing has weathered the biggest surge in workers quitting, a nearly 60% jump compared with pre-pandemic.” Employees who “quit” their manufacturing jobs in Nov. 2021 (the latest figures available at this time) was 2.3%. Let’s compare. In the same period (Nov. 2021) when manufacturing quits were 2.3% of the employed workforce, (retail) Trade, Transportation, and Utilities reached 3.6%, Professional and business services reached 3.7%, while Accommodation and Food Services sector reported the highest number of quits at 6.9% of their workforces.
I’ve just taken a few snips from the article. Check out the entire thing. I’ll just add an appropriate conclusion from Williamson for this segment:
The good news: Manufacturing jobs are still rewarding, and there are plenty of openings to be filled by talented people willing to learn.
We have to take in news, but we also need to check our prejudices and filter out the BS.