Over the past two and a half years, more than 2 million people have lost manufacturing jobs. Over the past year and two months, the United States has witnessed the weakest manufacturing recovery from recession since the Federal Reserve started keeping tabs on such things back in 1919.
Manufacturing remains critically important to our country, yet it faces unprecedented challenges. The loss of manufacturing jobs is particularly worrisome because they are among the best-paying jobs in America. More than 80 percent come with health insurance. Our most conservative estimates suggest that the 16.5 million manufacturing jobs support at least 9 million more jobs in other sectors of the economy.
Beyond economic security, it is also essential and appropriate to emphasize manufacturing's contribution to our national security — a contribution that has been dramatically visible as our military has managed to safeguard civilians while effectively targeting Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime. From advanced fighter planes to high-tech guided weapons systems, night-vision technologies, and the advanced digital and laser communications that comprise state-of-the-art command and control — all of it is the story of manufacturing's genius at work.
Turning to more of the strengths, manufacturing is essential to economic growth and employment opportunities. During the prosperity of the '90s, manufacturing was the largest contributor to economic growth. Manufacturing accounts for a quarter of U.S. economic output, 64 percent of exports, 62 percent of R&D, and 27 percent of growth. It's the driving force of technological progress and productivity growth.
A review of manufacturing should focus on three primary areas: the strengths and successes of modern U.S. manufacturing; the unique challenges confronting manufacturing today; and the new public and corporate policies needed to address these challenges.
To rev up listless economic growth, the Bush tax cuts or some reasonable variation thereof, offer the best hope of restoring confidence among consumers, investors and business.
Rapidly rising business costs stemming from the burden of government rules and requirements — including double-digit health-care inflation and spiraling litigation costs — are proving to be too much for too many companies, often forcing them to choose between laying off workers or outsourcing to foreign countries.
Many trading partners routinely erect unfair trade barriers and manipulate currency values. China is the most conspicuous offender in this regard, and is emerging as the primary threat to many of our core industries.
In sum, manufacturing is the heart of our economic strength and national security. We cannot maintain our position among the family of nations without a strong and viable manufacturing sector. That is why the NAM board of directors authorized the Campaign for Growth and Manufacturing Renewal to raise awareness of how vital manufacturing is to our economy, identify the impediments to our competitiveness and rally support for promanu-facturing policies and legislation.
NAM's basic policy objectives are:
Tax relief to boost business investment and consumer and investor confidence;
Trade policies to lower tariffs, modernize export controls and achieve market driven currency values;
Reduction of legal, regulatory, health-care and retirement-system burdens on businesses;
A national energy policy that expands domestic production and energy-delivery infrastructure;
Asbestos litigation reform;
Technology policies that enhance R&D and innovation while better protecting intellectual property; and
Educational and vocational policies that strengthen engineering and other advanced skills necessary to run cutting-edge manufacturing operations of the future.
NAM's most fundamental task is to increase visibility and awareness of the importance of manufacturing to our society and preserve and enhance our nation's manufacturing capability.
Jasinowski is president of the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C. On April 10, Jasinowski reported to the House Small Business Committee that, “American manufacturing is in crisis.” This column summarizes his testimony. The full testimony can be found at www.nam.org/testimony.