Growth in American Manufacturing: 2017 Trends

Manufacturing growth looks to be picking up speed according to the ISM Manufacturing Index. The ISM index measures indicators such as production, employment, and pricing by analyzing the responses of purchasing and supply executives in over 400 industrial companies. It is one of the industry’s key metrics, and for eight months in a row the manufacturing industry has shown growth. The index reflects these job gains with a 54.8% peak for the sector.


Currently there are around 12.4 million US workers in the manufacturing workforce. This number is up from 11.4 million recorded in early 2010. The increase could signal higher employer confidence and a long-term rise in factory jobs according to some analysts. The numbers show little progress, however, when compared to the 17 million factory jobs held by US workers in 2000.

Manufacturing at a glance - May 2017
data table courtesy of ISM

President Trump has made job growth a primary component of his policy focus and has pointed the finger at bad trade deals when it comes to the decline in the workforce. Trade deals such as NAFTA have often taken the blame when it comes to slipping job numbers. This is a popular sentiment, especially among the country’s Rust Belt population.

Many workers who live in regions that used to rely on blue collar work have been affected by declining job availability. Trade deals are often cited as the main point of failure responsible for slipping job growth, especially those deals that have allowed companies to move jobs to other countries where doing business is less costly and less regulated.

Economists point out that while there are fewer manufacturing jobs in the United States, production has actually increased. Look at GE, Ford and WesBell Electronics, Inc., US production remains at an all-time high despite sluggish job gains.

Ford Mustang muscle car

One factor that could explain this is the use of automation and robotics to replace human workers, allowing companies to produce more with fewer workers in factories and other industrial settings. Factories have used automation to allow them to increase production without increasing the cost of human labor, resulting in fewer manufacturing jobs for flesh and blood workers.

New job numbers are expected to continue along this increasing trend, but whether they will continue to show gains is not clear. The ISM index measures a number of indicators, and while the manufacturing sector has reported growth in jobs for each month so far in 2017, the index’s measurement for manufacturing employment declined in April compared to March.