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The Changing Landscape of Manufacturing in Illinois

Illinois News Connection

Illinois, along with many other states, has experienced a dramatic decline in manufacturing jobs since the 1940s, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report documents the shifting landscape of manufacturing over the past 70 years, and the impact on the sector in Illinois and other states. According to the findings, nearly one in four workers in the country was employed in manufacturing in 1940. Report co-author Neil Ridley, state initiative director at the Georgetown Center, said that share fell to 15% in 2000 and then to about 10% in 2016.

"And it's been in relative decline going back well into the 20th century, in relation to the rest of the workforce and the economy, since 2000," he said. "Illinois has lost nearly 300,000 manufacturing workers with the ups and downs of the global economy."

Despite the decline, the report underscored increases in production capability, with manufacturing adding $4 trillion in economic output nationally from 1947 to 2016. In Illinois, manufacturing output per worker rose from $118,000 in 2000 to $163,000 in 2016.

Ridley said the manufacturing downturn has meant a particular loss of economic opportunity for workers with less education.

"Manufacturing going back to the 1940s has been the primary source of employment for workers with a high school diploma or less," he said. "In fact, in 1980, nearly a third of all high school-educated workers found a job in manufacturing."

The report attributed the steep decline in manufacturing jobs to advances in automation, international competition and rising worker productivity. As executive director of Manufacturing Renaissance, a research consultant in Chicago, Dan Swinney contended that another factor is the lack of a clear industrial policy for the nation.

"We have fewer people working in manufacturing, but the productivity has increased," he said. "The big question is, how much could it have increased with a coherent focus on the importance of manufacturing by government - a commitment to really invest in the long-term of our manufacturing sector by financial interests, rather than just short-term thinking?"

In 2016, the top three manufacturing industries by output in Illinois were chemical; then machinery, followed by food and beverage and tobacco products.

The report is online at cew.georgetown.edu.