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Manufacturing Jobs Were Destroyed Mostly by Better Opportunities in the Service Sector

Here’s a letter to Politico:


Paul McLeary and Lee Hudson report on “younger workers choosing good-paying service industry jobs” over jobs in shipyards and other manufacturing plants (“Navy shipyards compete with fast food, and are losing,” April 9). This fact points to a much-neglected reality – namely, most American manufacturing jobs, far from having been torn away from workers aching to hold them, instead were ‘destroyed’ by workers themselves seizing better employment opportunities in the service sector.

My grandfather and father spent their careers laboring in a shipyard, as did the fathers of many of my childhood friends. The work was monotonous, difficult, dirty, dangerous, and – contrary to a now-prevalent myth – by today’s standards poorly paid. Given the attractive opportunities increasingly available in the service sector to people of my generation, my father would have thought me deranged had I followed his career path. Not being deranged, I – like nearly every one of my friends – gratefully chose a career in the service sector.

The current nostalgia for long-lost American manufacturing jobs is had overwhelmingly by pundits and politicians few of whom, I’ll bet, ever saw up-close the labors of mid-20th-century manufacturing workers – and none of whom, I’m certain, would want their sons or daughters to hold such jobs.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030