As manufacturing sector changes, production occupations disappear: an analysis of employment from 2007–20
The Great Recession and the years of recovery that followed saw sweeping changes to the U.S. economy, including notable changes to the makeup of the labor market and industry employment. During the recession (2007–10), employment decreased for many occupations and industries including large declines for production occupations in the manufacturing sector.1 In the decade that followed the Great Recession (2010–20), the economy largely recovered; however, the growth in manufacturing sector production jobs did not make up for the 1.5 million production jobs lost from 2007 to 2010. In addition, as the manufacturing sector grew, employment shares shifted away from production occupations to other occupational groups, such as business and finance, management, and engineering.
This Beyond the Numbers article uses Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program estimates for the nation and by industry to illustrate how employment of production occupations in specific manufacturing industries and the manufacturing sector changed from 2007 to 2020.2 Focusing on changes in production occupation employment in the manufacturing sector illustrates the lasting effect recessions can have on the labor market and certain industries.
What are production occupations?
Production occupations are the largest occupational group in the manufacturing sector and make up approximately half of all manufacturing employment. They include occupations like assemblers and fabricators and metal and plastic workers.
Production occupation employment steeply decreased during the Great Recession
The Great Recession (2007–10) severely affected U.S. employment. According to OEWS estimates, total national employment fell by 5.4 percent, or 7.3 million jobs. Manufacturing sector employment fell by 18 percent, or 2.5 million jobs. Employment of production occupations in the manufacturing sector fell by 1.5 million jobs, a steep 20-percent decrease. Almost all production occupations in the manufacturing sector experienced employment decreases during this period. Table 1 shows manufacturing sector production occupations that were among those with the largest percentage of job losses from 2007 to 2010.
Over half of jobs for all other metal workers and plastic workers vanished. Employment of semiconductor processing technicians decreased by 43.8 percent and metal and plastic drilling and boring machine tool setters, operators, and tenders fell by 40.5 percent. Appendix table 1 shows data for all detailed production occupations.