"Why our Economy Struggles to Create Jobs"

"Why our Economy Struggles to Create Jobs"

by Michele Nash-Hoff, author of 'Can American Manufacturing be Saved?' and AJA board member

There have been many opinions expounded via TV news shows, radio talk shows, newspapers, and magazines over the last four years as to why our economy has struggled to create jobs after the recession of 2007-2009 more than any other recession since WWII.

The economic collapse of the real estate and financial markets in 2008 had more impact on job losses than the recession of 2000-2001 caused by the dot.com bust because jobs related to real estate and construction represented a much higher component of employment than software/dot.com did at the time. During the recession of December 2007-June 2009, construction employment fell from 7,490,000 to 6,008,000, representing a loss of 1.5 million jobs or 19.8 percent of the construction workforce. It has remained less than 6 million as of April 2013 (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics).

When consumer demand dropped sharply because of so many people losing their jobs and homes, this eliminated the last thing keeping the domestic market floating on a bubble.

Since then, our economy has limped along at monthly average of a 1.5 to 2 percent growth rate in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is not enough to create the amount of jobs we need. The main reasons why our economy is struggling to create jobs are:

Decline of U. S. Manufacturing

We lost 57,000 manufacturing firms and 5.7 million manufacturing jobs since the year 2000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we recouped about 500,000 jobs (489,000 or 4 percent) since the low in January 2010.

As I have discussed in both editions of my book and numerous blog articles, this loss of manufacturing firms and jobs was mainly the result of "predatory mercantilism"; i.e., unfair competition/product dumping by China and other Asian nations and the fact that a large number of multinational and American companies outsourced manufacturing offshore and/or set up plants in China and other parts of Asia. These companies literally outsourced American jobs in an attempt to compete with the "China price," take advantage of less stringent environmental regulations, reduce taxes, and thereby maximize profits.

Transition to Service Economy

In addition to the many reasons previously discussed by myself and others, a key factor was revealed by the in-depth analysis of national and state data presented in the report "Goods, Services, and the Pace of Economic Recovery" by Martha L. Olney and Aaron Pacitti, Berkeley Economic History Laboratory (BEHL), University of California, Berkeley March 2013. 

Their hypothesis was: Do service-based economies experience slower economic recoveries than goods-based economies? They argue that they do. They conclude that "service-dependent economies experience longer recoveries because they cannot respond to anticipated demand." Thus, in a service-based economy, the recovery from a recession will take about one year longer than in a goods-based economy.

Why is this? They state, "An economy recovers from a downturn when businesses increase production. Both goods and services can be produced in response to actual demand. But only goods-and not services-can be produced in response to anticipated increases in demand, allowing optimistic forward-looking producers to inventory goods until anticipated buyers appear. Services cannot be inventoried. The more services an economy produces relative to goods, the more production is dependent upon only actual increases in demand, and the slower the recovery."

Services have to be delivered in real-time by doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, web designers, graphic artists, etc. Even in the industrial realm, services such as engineering design, product testing, shipping, and delivery services are performed as needed. These services cannot be produced ahead of the need and "stored."  

The authors argue that there is a connection between the steady rise of services in the U.S. economy over the last half century and the slower pace of recovery from economic downturns. They state, "...as services become a larger share of output in an economy, more production is dependent on just actual and not also anticipated demand, slowing the pace of recovery from an economic downturn."

The increase in the services share over the past 60 years has been striking. "In 1950, 40 percent of expenditures for U.S. GDP were for services and service-producing jobs were 48 percent of employment. By 2010, services constituted over 65 percent of expenditures for GDP and service-producing jobs were nearly 70 percent of employment." The rise in services in the U.S. has led to longer recoveries, causing the current recovery to last about one year longer than it would have a half century ago.

End of NASA's Manned Flight Program

The official retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 resulted in a 19 percent drop in employment from 2007 to 2010 according to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) industrial base assessment of the 536 companies in NASA's manned space flight supply chain. If this steep a drop in employment occurred before the retirement of the Space Shuttle, it will be far worse by the time of the next assessment now that the program has ended.

Of the 536 companies, 50 percent of them are manufacturing companies, of which 21 percent are based in California, and 9 percent based in Florida. The report said that companies that supplied the Space Shuttle and Constellation launch program are facing "large-scale layoffs and facility closures across both industry and government."

Near the Kennedy Space Center, more than 7,400 people in Brevard County, Florida alone lost their jobs when the shuttle program ended. The mainly contractor positions cut by NASA accounted for just under 5% of the county's private sectors jobs. Thousands of formerly well-paid engineers and other workers around the country are still struggling to find jobs to replace the careers that flourished during the space shuttle program.

The machinery and tools used to support a manned space program are in danger of being discarded. In a separate assessment of the space flight industry, BIS found that 52 companies that were major suppliers (Tier I) had 48,623 pieces of tools and machinery, 91 percent of which had been paid for by the government. This classifies them as "Government-Furnished Property" so that the General Services Administration can process them by being transferred, sold, scrapped, or donated.

The danger is that the U. S. government may never be able to re-establish a manned space flight program to support ongoing missions to the International Space Station once the supplier base of the manned space flight program has been decimated. At the present, the U. S. has no way of sending astronauts to space in its own vehicles, and NASA is relying on the Soviet-made Soyuz capsules to send U.S. astronauts to space station. Thus, the U. S.  may never again be a leader of space exploration.

Wind Down of War on Terrorism

The end of the Cold war with the Soviet Union resulted in a major downsizing of the military-industrial complex in the early 1990s, causing the recession of 1991-1992 and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. Likewise, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the ramp down of troops in Afghanistan are having a similar effect on the defense/military industry, with a resulting loss of funding for new programs, cutbacks in existing programs, and job loss.


The additional cuts in the Defense Department's procurement are taking a toll on some critical industries such as ship repair. In February, the Navy canceled all FY 2013 ship repair contracts that had been awarded to San Diego ship repair companies but not yet started. How many companies can survive having all their new contracts canceled? 

What can we do?

It is interesting to note that one of the policy recommendations of the authors of the Berkeley report on goods vs. service' corroborate some that I have presented previously:

"Therefore we believe that industrial policy aimed at restoring the country's manufacturing sector could be beneficial. For example, tax policy that provides large re-shoring tax credits for goods-producing firms and levies large tax penalties on firms that offshore goods production could increase the share of goods in total output."

Additional recommendations the authors make are:  

  • Targeted investment in public goods and infrastructure would accomplish the same end.
  • Full employment policies and direct job creation programs could be enacted.
  • Targeted and aggressive fiscal spending and an employer of last resort program that guarantees full employment

The authors conclude, "Longer and slower recoveries place a greater strain on state and federal budgets by decreasing tax revenue and increasing expenditures on automatic stabilizers. States will be forced to cut spending since all states with the exception of Vermont are required by law to run a balanced budget." We have certainly seen this conclusion take effect as one state after another faces a staggering budget deficit, and our federal deficit has skyrocketed since 2009.


In the past two years, the general public and more economists and policymakers have begun to recognize the importance of U. S. manufacturing. Manufacturing is the foundation of our economy and is crucial to providing the quantity and quality of higher paying jobs we need.


It is high time for Congress and the Obama administration to develop a comprehensive national manufacturing strategy for the United States. Until we make a national manufacturing strategy a top priority, our economy will continue to struggle to create jobs.