Every election has its signature issues, which candidates ignore at their peril. This year, the Republicans have the border; the Democrats are making do with Wall Street. But at least one political subject inevitably demands attention from both sides—and in 2016, that’s American manufacturing. Democrats and Republicans seem to share the belief that America was better off when its citizens could count on a factory job as a reliable escalator into the middle class. Every candidate has a plan to revitalize U.S. industry; Trump alone promised to bring steel back to Pittsburgh and Carrier back to Indiana. Given that the image of the factory worker is so closely linked to America’s 20th-century rise, one can understand this desire to turn back the clock. But would such a restoration be viable?
Manufacturing accounts for around 12 million U.S. jobs today, down from a peak of 19 million in 1979. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, the sector puttered along, hovering around 17 million jobs. But something snapped during the 2001 dot-com bust: The industry lost 3 million jobs in three years, and it didn’t rebound. Another 2 million jobs went down the drain during the Great Recession. The sector has shown only tepid growth since. Read more at The Atlantic.