Greetings folks to this special election installment of Manufacturing Monday! Today the big economic figure we're going look at will be the ISM survey on Manufacturing, but afterwards I want to share a bigger story. Now I understand most of us, if not all, are either voting for Barack Obama and/or straight Democratic ticket. But why? Well we can cite environmental reasons, the GOP simply don't get climate change. We can cite civil rights reasons, one need only look up Guantanamo on the map. There's the war in Iraq and America's current imperial ambitions. But we also can cite economic reasons.
I don't have to tell you it's bad out there. You see it everyday as you drive to work, drop your kid at school or talk with your friends. Folks are losing their homes has become a common story on the news as much as the weather these sad days. There's the credit crisis and business failures. And then there are the jobs, another story sadly familiar to you out there. We've talked about outsourcing of jobs, underemployment, and the fight labor is having. Yet many of you know how bad the job situation is yet only in an abstract form. So, below is a story, a little reminder of sorts that sort of puts a face on that abstract, to show you exactly where we really came from and have fallen to. But of course...first the Numbers!
Talk about convenient for our topic at hand! The latest Institute for Supply Management (ISM) survey on manufacturing is now out. Folks, it's worse than though, breaking through even the consensus number! For those of you new to this column, the ISM Manufacturing Survey is essentially taking the temperature of the conditions of the nation's factories. They take into consideration new orders, employment, supplier deliveries, and inventories. It's a well rounded picture and very reliable. The way it's measured, well what you basically need to know, is that any number below 50, means declining business in our nation's factories; above 50 is well..the opposite!
So this week, the data came in at 38.9, which is the lowest it's been so far these bast four years. The consensus was 41.5, not a good number either, but sure as hell beats a near 39! The previous figure was already a dead low of 43.5, which was a significant drop from the near 50 ISM saw in the recent past.
Bottom line, well heck, I don't think I have to tell you that! We had stall in production in aerospace because of the strike at Boeing. There is the continuing tragedy that is our nation's automobile sector. And across the nation various small and large manufacturers are on the forefront of the credit crisis.
West Virginia Oh How I Feel for Thee!
Once in a while, you come across a news story about something specific or minor detail about a fact, that pretty much captures the bigger picture. Like the one about the soldier who had to have his family buy him armor, or the one about the mentally disabled girl who died of neglect. Well, this one opinion piece about the loss of jobs in West Virginia could speak about the nation as a whole.
From 2000 to 2007, West Virginia lost 18,900 manufacturing jobs. As a percentage of all state employment, the number of manufacturing jobs fell by nearly 50 percent during the past 19 years: from 14.3 percent in 1988 to 7.8 percent in 2007.a Despite this downward trend in employment, the manufacturing industry still comprised 13.6 percent of private-sector state GDP in 2007.b
- excerpt from "West Virginia Loses 18,900 Manufacturing Jobs Since 2000", State Journal, 2008.
Now I'll be honest, I had to re-read that paragraph. A 50% drop, fifty! I knew things were bad in West Virginia, but not this bad. The Mountain State has not been faring well. It had a violent history in regards to unions, in fact I believe a movie or two were made about it. Bottom line, the good folk of this state have not prospered well these past few years.
Manufacturing jobs were one of the alternatives to the dominant industries of the state, coal mining and agriculture. The latter, I've been learning has been on the decline. Rural poverty in these parts is about 20%. Of course, the former is what many think of when asked about the economy of the state. It is not uncommon to hear about generations within one family working in the coal mining industry. It should be noted, that if this country proceeds with any real clean coal initiatives, the state would be one of the "Saudi Arabias" of coal.
But manufacturing served as an alternative, along with, later on, technology jobs. Yes, the Mountain State isn't California's Silicon Valley, it isn't the shuttered steel mills of Pennsylvania or the closed auto factories of Ohio. It's population is small and considered at times as some sort of "hill people". Yet we do ourselves a disservice discounting the good folks of West Virginia. The coal miner has suffered greatly at the lax deregulatory state of the Bush economy...no wait, lets be honest this goes back even to Reagan! Their industrial base has also suffered the Asian Import Storm. Indeed, one could almost say that these Americans are a microcosm of the rest of America...economically speaking.
We as a nation have committed economic abortion, not just the jobs we sent overseas, but more importantly the ones that ended up being "born" there as a result of our first job export. The factory towns of China's eastern coast have industrial centers that are almost cities onto themselves, housing support companies that were spawned when the "big jobs" came in. There is no point, for a manufacturer using China to produce a product, to import components across the ocean when he could get them locally.
A history of industrial decline, a Conservative crime?
Below I want you to glance at some very important charts. They say a picture is a thousand words, well these charts I guess you could say are a million jobs. They are industrial related information, some are obvious reasons others you may ask why I put them up. Well, rest assured, as your humble econ servant, I will explain all. The data is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) which is part of the US Census Bureau, accessed via Moody's free site, Freelunch.com
(Chart of NAICS Year-over-year growth of the manufacturing sector of our economy, data courtesy of Freelunch.com and the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Now this volatile-looking chart is the year over year growth rate of manufacturing in our Gross Domestic Product. It's obviously sensitive to economic swings. The drops will be harsh as demand for industrial or consumer manufactured goods declines. But what I really want you to see is the rebounds. Notice that since 1983, the growth rates from that zero base have been shrinking Now when Clinton became President, we saw an increase in those growth rates. Yet notice how when we had the second Bush Administration, those rebounds shrank once more?
(Bureau of Labor Statistics chart of those employed in the manufacturing sector)
Employment in manufacturing has been one of the primary victims here. As you can bee seen in the chart above, the number of individuals working in production has dropped off dramatically. From the Depression era, we were growing, and then peaked around 1978 or so. By the 1980s, we begin to see a decline in manufacturing jobs. But the largest drop appears towards the end of the decade.
Now I have a theory here, which I will admit is unscientific, but I think 1983/84 is key. It was the first years when our trade negotiators essentially put up the white flag against our trading partners. We had new pacts like the one with Canada, and of course later its' larger brother, NAFTA. Now don't start thinking this means our jobs went up North, because I suspect it didn't. Instead, it was the landmark of the trade deal itself that set the stage of future lacking growth in manufacturing.
When you get to the 1990s, well we see growth again, this has to do with massive amounts of spending in technology. Remember, early on, most of those new computers and gadgets came from places like Silicon Valley, heck I still remember owning an Apple Newton made in America! Anyway, towards the middle of the decade, much of that work began to go East...far East. 1995 also saw the establishment of the World Trade Organization, which was a marker for another wave of trade deals. By the time 'W' got into office, and I'd say well into it, you saw the same lack of growth in those rebounds.
The Republicans were big promoters of free trade, hell even on national security, one need only look at the recent deal with a Chinese company for sea port scanners over a US company! One need only Google stories of trade deals and this regime. But wait, this isn't just about George W. Bush, it's about the forces behind him, that of his party and the free trade ideology and the impact they have had on our economy.
(NAICS raw steel index, 1997 = 100)
A good measure of a nation's industrial economy is the production of certain products. Many folks look at copper or aluminum, another is the production of raw steel. Some thing that one should look at employment numbers to see where the economy is heading, but really you should look at metals production. It's been my experience that that leads employment. So lets take a look at the NAICS raw steel index. We had been producing massive amounts of steel for production in this country until around 1980-81. Hrmm... I wonder who was President of the United States back then??? As you can see, raw steel production faced a gigantic decline and a very tepid recovery. Indeed, it seems since the middle of the last decade, steel has been in a bottleneck in regards to growth. 2001-02 saw the last major drop, making a low not seen in two decades. Yet once more, the growth has stopped at or near the last area of resistance it saw in the late 1990s.
(NAICS Index of production of small appliances, 2002 = 100)
I will be completely honest with you here, I was shocked that we still made small appliances in this country as late as 1998! Walk into a Sears or Wal-mart or what have you, and most of those blenders or microwaves either say "Made In China" or "Hencho en Mexico." So I have a nagging suspicion that the definition of "small household appliance" was changed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the late 90s (kinda like the way they keep changing the formula for unemployment and inflation!). You maybe wondering why then bother including this graph? Why not say automobiles or even computers?
First, buyers of new homes tend to restock them with new appliances. Secondly, appliances have the most name brand space in a retail store next to consumer electronics and heavy household goods like refrigerators. Phillip Fisher, one of Warren Buffet's idols who he learned from, said that good way to gauge a company's strength is through it's brand's dominance. GE first became a familiar name to us decades ago when one went to the store to buy that first television or toaster. These small appliances, if one looks back at the history of many companies, sales from these helped make those companies grow. No one heard of Haier of China or Samsung of Korea decades ago; yet the revenue from the sale of their appliance divisions helped them go up the value chain. Samsung now is the leader in HD televisions and now semiconductors. Haier's management has been quoted in the past that they look at GE for inspiration. Laugh at me if you want about focusing on this, but mark my words, history will repeat itself! Haier could soon be making jet engines for Boeing planes!
Looking at the graph, and lets assume that in that late 90s spike we were making small appliances (I know...I know), you can see the results so far. Now I can believe appliances made here in the 1970s and even as far as the 1980s. Now if these charts are basically anything north of 100 equals growth, well we've been dead in the water for a long time! Now once more, assume that the late 90s growth in domestic manufacturing in small appliances is valid, what happens afterwards is simply damning. Here we had growth...actual growth in domestic appliance production, and George W. Bush's administration has pushed those levels of production below any valley seen on that chart!
Ok, perhaps the appliance thing may not be as incriminating of the free-trade Ann Rand style economic policies. It would be nice that the next time I buy a microwave it's made by an American worker. While some many not grant importance to the humble toaster or stove, it is a sign of sorts of national self-reliance that we can supply the goods that we need. And that leads us to the next example of why we need to insure unfettered trade folks are never elected into power again. For what good is a super power if it cant.....clothe itself?
(NAICS index of apparel production, 2002 = 100)
Like many other domestic products, apparel has been another "dead" product for the American worker. The apparel industry is a cut throat one, be it on the production side or retail. Many of us remember the textile industry here, the near dickensian situation on the floors of many of these places, but for many it was still the only job they could get. We've all seen Norma Rae, and the right to organize, in my opinion is a fundamental one. Workers shouldn't be "garment slaves," but that's the situation going on inside the other textile mills in Asia. It's why we in the end, with no tariffs or barriers, could not compete. No one should ask our workers to work for the same wages as one of those "migrant" workers in China (btw, if you're wondering, "migrants" in China are those from the countryside who move to the urban areas for factory work. Many sad stories about those folks.). Folks here, who face hire costs of living need a decent wage. Paradoxically, textile company owners who wish to maintain work here face battles of their own, primarily a thinning profit margin. And lets be honest, when a company's not making money, it will soon close down.
And the chart above essentially shows that. From shirts to shoes and socks, domestic production has either gone bankrupt or shifted work to lower cost countries. Growth for the prior decades had been near stagnant, the index never stayed above 190 for long. By the end of the 1990s and going into the 21st Century, as barriers disappeared, so did the textile work.
The rate..oh hell, lets call it what it is, the collapse of apparel product erased virtually every gain we had. It has yet to recover, and indeed has slowly descended ever further. We as a nation talk about our auto industry, we talk about our call centers or programmer jobs. But not everyone can be a computer whiz or an auto worker. Jobs like these provide income to folks who are at the bottom of the work value ladder. Perhaps, and maybe this is cynical of me, that if the textiles came back that management would simply opt to hiring illegal immigrants in another example of exploitation of these poor people. But I know this, that $69 sneakers sold at my local Kohl's or Target was probably made by someone earning one-hundredth of that an hour, and if one included shipping, the shoe probably cost Nike a tenth of that.
That brings us to my final reason why one needs to vote out any free trader. It is the one barometer that truly shows us in the weakened position that we are in. The one thing that has lined up the wage arbitrators and the bank accounts of the Peoples Republic of China. You know what I'm getting at....the trade deficit.
Please take a look at that chart above. It's a quarterly chart of the difference between what we export and what we import, going back to the 1960s. What you see here is the real reason we owe so much money. Why our children will end up paying off an interest rate to those who could care less about us. Don't look at the column at the far left as just a series of negative numbers, look at them as the lost potential in our own domestic growth and future.
I'm not entirely surprised that it was with Nixon that we started dancing in the negative area. Prior to him, while it wasn't exactly growth land, we kept our pace and held firm. Yet from Nixon, onto Reagan, Clinton and then Bush (both of 'em!), our trade picture has been nothing more than a sinking ship! Still, interestingly enough, if you look closely, when we did stay in positive territory, there was a Democrat in the White House.
I don't know, though, if I should really commend the Democrats on this one. Yes, that party, well the progressive liberals at least, have been for the working man. But it was the Democratic Party that went along on those trade plans and were in power when things headed south. Its really the one major thing about Clinton I could never forgive. Yes, Bush the First did the initial part of this economic crime, but Clinton signed it into law on that November day in 1993.
You may think ill of me of using the words "economic abortion", but that's what we committed here for the past 30+ years. We've allowed greedy folks to play this game of wage arbitrage against us. They shifted small investments in mills and assembly lines overseas, that has since grown into something more. Those tiny sweatshops have become conglomerates of their own, spawning more industries and work...for their nation's people. And, in a fit of irony, many of those "startups" are now buying up their former patrons. America once sent products abroad to overseas markets, now we are "the overseas market."
We've watched our money devalue, our earnings collapse, and ourselves gorge on debt to buy these products. As this went on, the financing came from the very people who sold us the product. We were indebted to them, and only increased our reliance on them for our daily things. The British did a similar thing to the places across the globe under a mercantilist system in the name of empire. Only this time, the flag isn't a Union Jack or the French Tri-color; it's the logos of Samsung, Haier, Sony, Nike, Daimler-Benz, etc. Nike? What did you think the multinationals are our companies? My dear friend, in an odd twist of fate...the colonizer has become the colonized!
This is why I am voting for Barack Obama. I honestly don't expect him to change much, the system at this point is too big even for him. But I do expect him to make a crack against it. I expect the wave of Democrats to symbolize a change in the way we think of trade and our economy. Perhaps not this Congress, but let it be a start. Most of the folks running, this generation, the people need to let them know that they are being elected to alter the course of this runaway trade train!