US factories still thriving, but robots mean fewer workers

Yet American factory production, minus raw materials and some other costs, more than doubled over the same span to $1.91 trillion last year, according to the Commerce Department, which uses 2009 dollars to adjust for inflation. Trump and other critics are right that trade has claimed some American factory jobs, especially after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and gained easier access to the U.S. market. [...] industries that have relied heavily on labor — like textile and furniture manufacturing — have lost jobs and production to low-wage foreign competition. [...] research shows that the automation of U.S. factories is a much bigger factor than foreign trade in the loss of factory jobs. Or look at production of steel and other primary metals. Since 1997, the United States has lost 265,000 jobs in the production of primary metals — a 42 percent plunge — at a time when such production in the U.S. has surged 38 percent. Multinational companies are also rethinking how they spread production across the globe in the 1990s and 2000s, when they tended to manufacture components in different countries and then assemble a product at a plant in China or other low-wage country. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which disrupted shipments of auto parts, and the bankruptcy of the South Korean shipping line Hanjin Shipping, which stranded cargo in ports, exposed the risk of relying on far-flung supply lines. "If your supply chain gets interrupted and your raw materials are coming from offshore, all of a sudden shelves are empty and you can't sell product," says Thomas Caudle, president of the North Carolina-based textile company Unifi.
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