Manufacturing Gained 17,000 Jobs in December. With the Right Policies, We Can Create More.

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jan 06 2017 |
President Obama oversaw the creation of 315,000 new manufacturing jobs in his second term. We applaud him for his efforts to strengthen American manufacturing. | Photo by Pete Souza, The White House

Plus: A look back at President Obama’s manufacturing legacy.

The final jobs numbers of 2016 were released by the Labor Department on Friday morning, and there was good news — 17,000 new factory jobs were created in December.

That’s a big improvement from the past five months, which all saw manufacturing job loss. Manufacturing actually made an outsized contribution to job growth in December, accounting for more than 10 percent of all the new jobs created.

The fact that thousands of new jobs were created shows us that manufacturing job growth is possible. But we shouldn’t get too excited yet; this is only one month, after all.

Still, we know there are things we can do to encourage growth, including through infrastructure investment that includes strong Buy America provisions; strict enforcement of U.S. trade laws; a strengthened defense industrial base; and the promotion of U.S. manufacturing in tax reform.

In two weeks, this work will fall to President-elect Donald Trump and his new administration. Trump has promised to make manufacturing job growth a priority during his time in office — and here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we plan to hold him to that promise.

This month’s jobs report also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of President Obama, who famously pledged to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs in his second term. We’ve tracked Obama’s progress over the past four years via the #AAMeter. Obama finished far off from his goal, with 315,000 new jobs created since January 2013.

But it’s worth applauding the president for setting such an ambitious goal to begin with — and he deserves some praise for his efforts. There’s no doubt Obama shined a spotlight on manufacturing throughout his eight years in office, and he took some bold steps to boost the sector, including:

  • The Auto Rescue: Obama’s controversial decision to move ahead with the auto rescue, begun under President George W. Bush, was a bold move. It also was the right one. It saved hundreds of thousands of middle class manufacturing jobs and laid the foundation for a strong domestic auto industry.
  • Trade Enforcement: The Obama administration has been willing to take significant action to enforce our trade laws. The Commerce Department regularly issued antidumping and countervailing duties against imports dumped into the U.S. market, ranging from everything from steel to tires to washing machines. Doing so leveled the playing field for American workers and allowed American companies to compete on the global stage.
  • The Economic Stimulus and Infrastructure Spending: It wasn’t as big as some might have hoped for, including Obama himself, but the stimulus did invest money into much-needed infrastructure projects throughout the country. Obama also signed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, the $305 billion measure that was the first long-term surface transportation bill in a decade. Greater investment will help strengthen America’s economy and create jobs.
  • Manufacturing USA: Previously known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, Manufacturing USA is a collection of public-private partnerships located throughout the country that are designed to work to “secure America’s future through manufacturing innovation, education and collaboration.” There are now 13 institutes working on developing cutting-edge technology and training American workers, bringing together government, academia and the private sector. The government’s $920 million investment has been matched by $1.87 billion in private funds, ensuring that the network’s work will continue long-term. 

O.K., so Obama didn’t meet his 1 million job goal. But he did enact policies that helped create 315,000 new manufacturing jobs, and that’s still a tremendous achievement.

Merely stopping the flood of factory job loss would have been an accomplishment — the sector has lost 5 million jobs total since 2000, after all. Obama not only managed to reverse course, he actually oversaw the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

He deserves credit for that.