10 Facts You May Not Know About American Manufacturing

On July 4th we celebrate the independence of the United States of America. Among the many things that help contribute to the unique position of the United States in the world is our strong manufacturing sector. Here are 10 facts you may not know about American manufacturing., according to the National Association of Manufacturers(NAM). 

1. Manufacturing workers account for almost 10% of the American workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of May 2017, about 12.4 million Americans worked in the manufacturing sector. According to NAM, this accounts for about 9% of the American workforce. Further, this number grew by 800,000 workers since the Great Recession beginning in 2008. 

2. In May 2017, the average manufacturing worker earned $26.47 per hour. 

This statistic is also courtesy of the BLS, which also reported that the average hourly salary for production and non-supervisory employees was $20.79 per hour. This is base pay only, excluding any benefits. 

Yearly income varied by occupation within manufacturing, but as of May 2016, purchasing agents (excluding wholesale, retail, and farm products) earned a median annual salary of $61,210. Machinists could expect to earn a median annual salary of $41,560, while inspectors, testers, weighers, sorters, and samplers could expect a median annual income of $37,480.

3. Durable goods manufacturing has almost tripled its output between 1987 and 2017. 

Since 1987, hourly output for all durable goods manufacturers has increased 2.5 times, NAM reported. Across all industries (excluding farming), the output increase during the same time frame is only 1.7 times. Meanwhile, labor cost in the manufacturing sector have fallen by 8.4% since 2008. Falling labor costs plus increased output makes manufacturing one of the most “lean” industries when it comes to growth. 

4. Exports of goods manufactured in the U.S. have quadrupled since 1990. 

Exports of American goods to countries including Canada, Mexico, and China have grown in the past 25 years. In 2015, the U.S. manufacturing sector enjoyed a $12.7 billion trade surplus with America’s partners in trade agreements, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Of all the manufactured goods exported by the United States, 48.2% were exported to countries with which the U.S. in entered in trade agreements. 

5. In 2016, American manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy.

Using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, NAM reported that the contribution of the manufacturing sector to the U.S. economy are up from 2009's reported $1.7 trillion contribution. In 2016, manufacturing accounted for 11.7% of America’s gross domestic product (GDP). 

6. The percentage of manufacturing workers who are eligible for health care benefits from their employers is higher than in many other industries. 

Citing the Kaiser Family Foundation as the source of its information, NAM reports that in 2015, 92% of manufacturing employees were eligible for their employers’ health insurance coverage plans. Across all industries, the average is 79%. The take-up rate, i.e. the percentage of employees who actually participate in these health care plans, was 84%. Only two sectors (government and trade, communications, and utilities) had higher take-up rates. 

7. Manufacturing alone would be the 9th-largest economy in the world.

If we separated out only the manufacturing sector and looked at it as if it were a nation, it would have the 9th-largest economy in the world by GDP. As mentioned above, the $1.7 trillion GDP reported in 2009 would rank the manufacturing sector behind only eight nations, including the United States. 

8. In 2015, investors from other countries contributed more than $1.2 trillion to the manufacturing industry. 

Foreign investments crossed $1.2 trillion for the first time in 2015 and have more than doubled since 2005. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis projects this figure to continue to grow in the next few years, based on announcements of future ventures. 

9. More than three quarters of research and development (R&D) in the U.S. in done by the manufacturing industry.

According the Bureau of Economic Analysis, investment in R&D in the manufacturing sector increased by $103.7 billion between 2000 and 2014. More than one third of the R&D done in the manufacturing sector comes from pharmaceutical manufacturing, the leader of innovation in the manufacturing sector. Other significant contributions came from aerospace, chemicals, computers, and electronics manufacturing. 

10. Manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect of any sector of the U.S. economy.

The “multiplier effect” is a measure of return on investment. In this case, for every dollar spent on the manufacturing industry, the manufacturing industry returns $1.81 to the U.S. economy. If one looks at the supply chain affected by the manufacturing industry, it could be said that every dollar spent on manufacturing returns a total of $3.60. 

The multiplier effect also applies to employment: For every one employee hired by a manufacturer, four other employees are needed elsewhere in the economy. 


These ten facts about the manufacturing sector give American manufacturers much to feel good about this July 4th. Far from being a “dinosaur,” a dying industry, or a drain on the economy, the manufacturing sector is a vibrant, thriving sector of the economy that gives a valuable return on investments into it.