Loss of Employment in Manufacturing before and during the Great Recession
The following chart shows the loss of manufacturing jobs, by state, in the decade between 1996 to 2005. The right-to-work state are indicated in boldface type.
States with a Loss of More than 20 Percent of Their Employment in Manufacturing:
This chart would seem to support the value of right-to-work since only six of the 22 worst-performing states are right-to-work states, and among those six, Oklahoma became a right-to-work state only halfway through the period being tracked.
But before latching on to such conclusions, readers should consider several factors. First, during this time period, excluding Oklahoma, 28 of the 49 states, or almost 60%, were pro-Labor. Second, on the whole, pro-labor states have had substantially higher employment in manufacturing than right-to-work states have had, and that difference widens the farther back one goes. So the pro-Labor have simply had more jobs to lose, and most of those jobs have simply been eliminated. If they had been transferred to right-to-work states, those right-to-work states would be showing substantial increases in manufacturing employment, rather than the substantial decreases shown in the preceding and the following charts. Lastly, and perhaps paradoxically, five of the 16 pro-labor states on this list of those with the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs lost between 1996 and 2005 either have low overall populations or had low employment in manufacturing to begin with.
The next chart, which includes states that lost between 15% and 20% of their manufacturing jobs between 1996 and 2005. Again, the right-to-work states are indicated in boldface type.
States with a Loss of 15% to 20% of Their Employment in Manufacturing:
Note that in this second group of states, all of which lost one out of every five or six manufacturing jobs during this period and therefore did only marginally better than the states in the first list, seven of the 13 states are right-to-work states.
In fact, all of the right-to-work states with the highest employment in manufacturing—Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina—are on these two lists.
The following chart shows the remaining manufacturing jobs, by state, in 2008, or at the beginning of the Great Recession:
You can compare that list to the following list of the 20 states that lost the most manufacturing jobs between 2008 and 2009, as the Great Recession had its most immediate and most acute impact. Again, the right-to-work states are indicated in boldface.
Right-to-work proponents will undoubtedly rush to point out that the five states with the highest numbers of manufacturing jobs lost were all pro-labor states.
But I think that it is worth noting that Texas, which is usually touted by right-to-work proponents as a dynamo of manufacturing jobs impervious to the effects of the Great Recession, lost only marginally fewer jobs than Illinois and Indiana—and, Governor Perry’s attempts to lure California factories to Texas notwithstanding, Texas did proportionately little better than California in retaining or adding manufacturing jobs. (As a footnote, perhaps voters in Indiana should have considered more pointedly if that difference of 600 jobs lost in manufacturing warranted adopting right-to-work legislation, especially since in 2008 Indiana’s population was 26% of that of Texas, but the state had 56% of the number of jobs in manufacturing that Texas had.)
More notably, in 2008, there were six right-to-work states in the top twenty states by manufacturing employment, and there were nine right-to-work states in the list of the states that lost the highest number of manufacturing jobs between 2008 and 2009.
But, again, very broadly, if one wishes to measure the impact of right-to-work legislation on retaining and creating jobs in manufacturing, looking the loss of manufacturing by percentage is more helpful than measuring it by the simple number of jobs lost. The clear pattern is that states that have had more jobs in manufacturing have simply had more jobs to lose, regardless of whether they have been pro-union or right-to-work states.
In fact, I will try to show in the next several posts in this series that the loss of manufacturing jobs has more to do with automation than with anything else, and it now may be much more indicative of the health of manufacturing in given states to consider the value of manufacturing output rather than the employment in manufacturing.
Previous posts in this series have included:
Part 1: Population Growth and Movement: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/03/2666/
Part 2: Immigration: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/21/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-2/
Part 3: Unemployment Rates, by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/30/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-3/
Part 4: Historic Highs and Lows in Unemployment, by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/05/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-4/
Part 5: Employment in Manufacturing: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/10/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-5/
My other posts on “right to work” have included:
“Right to Work Isn’t Going Away, at Least for the Moment”: https://academeblog.org/2012/09/07/right-to-work-isnt-going-away-at-least-for-the-moment/
“Right to Work Is an Insult to Intelligence”: https://academeblog.org/2012/12/11/right-to-work-is-an-insult-to-intelligence/
“Right to Work Is an Insult to Intelligence, Addendum”: https://academeblog.org/2012/12/12/right-to-work-is-an-insult-to-intelligence-addendum/
“Right to Work Introduced in the Ohio House”: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/01/right-to-work-bills-introduced-in-ohio-house/