Material boys.

Author:McKenna, Joseph F.
Position:First cut - Manufacturing workers - Editorial

Three cheers for the "material boys."

So says social analyst Joel Kotkin. That's what he calls those working in manufacturing today. Those boys, says Kotkin, are manufacturing products for the world. At the same time, they're sytematically dismantling the oft-repeated canard that America no longer makes things.

Earlier this year, Kotkin wrote a detailed commentary about material boys for The Wall Street Journal. Titled "The Myth of Deindustrialization," Kotkin's article should be required reading for all those who declare that the United States is a land of, by, and for the service economy. Politicians should read it twice.

"Manufacturing's role in promoting job and income growth is often under stated," insists Kotkin. "Although overall industrial jobs have diminished by almost five million since the late 1970s, the loss has been concentrated largely in lower-skilled positions. The number of higher-skilled positions, with a median hourly wage of $24, jumped by more than 36 percent between 1983 and 2002 to nearly 4.5 million, according to a 2006 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York."

Interestingly enough, reports Kotkin, manufacturing is improving the fortunes of such cities as Charlotte, NC, and Grand Forks, SD--places never known as manufacturing towns during the 20th century. In Seattle, it's raining jobs, too. Kotkin's WSJ article points to the fact that manufacturing employment in the Land of Boeing "has been growing about as quickly as the information sectors."

What breaks this Rust Belt kid's heart is to read Kotkin's lament about one-time manufacturing towns that have turned their back on making things. Here's what Kotkin recently told Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Cities that have lost their industrial base don't want to talk about it, and many cities that still have it are almost ashamed of it. In one...

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