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At several points in his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama noted the importance of manufacturing to the nation’s economy.
"Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing," Obama said. "After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again."
The claim about job numbers is an update of a line Obama included in his acceptance speech at the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. We checked that one and rated it True.
The main difference between Obama’s two versions was that the timeline in the most recent claim has been extended by six months.
Because of the wording of his claim, we are examining whether the numbers are right, not whether Obama's policies were instrumental. To check the numbers, we turned to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s official source for employment numbers. We used seasonally adjusted statistics for manufacturing jobs.
Shedding jobs for more than 10 years
It’s not news that manufacturing jobs have been in decline in the United States in recent years, though sometimes with ups and downs. Generally, the decline has been due to broad economic shifts both inside and outside the United States, as well as changes in technology. Manufacturing’s share of U.S. employment was 29 percent in 1960, but it fell to just 9 percent by 2011. Even the raw numbers of manufacturing jobs fell over that period -- from 15.7 million to 11.7 million -- despite a large expansion of the overall U.S. workforce.
Between March and April 1998 and December 2009 -- the decade-plus that Obama appears to be referring to -- manufacturing employment fell from 17.6 million to 11.5 million, a decline of just over one-third. So Obama’s correct that manufacturing jobs had been "shedding jobs for more than 10 years" by the time he took office.
Added about 500,000 jobs over the past three years
During the period Obama chose -- from January 2010 to January 2013 -- manufacturing jobs began to rise again, by 490,000. We think that qualifies as "about 500,000," as Obama put it.
It’s worth noting that while the reversal has been striking, this rise has still replaced only a fraction of the manufacturing jobs lost during the "decade of decline." The manufacturing jobs gained during the turnaround replaced less than 10 percent of the jobs lost during the decade of decline.
The rise in manufacturing jobs that Obama is referring to is modest compared to the prior decade’s decline, but he has described the numbers carefully. We rate his statement True.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (main index page), accessed Feb. 12, 2013
PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says U.S. has gained a half-million manufacturing jobs," Sept. 6, 2012
PolitiFact, "Steve Moore says ratio of people working in government, manufacturing is ‘an almost exact reversal’ of pattern in 1960," April 6, 2011
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