Report: Manufacturing key to middle-class health

The health of the American middle class depends on a revival of manufacturing, a commission headed by two former governors — one Republican, one Democrat — has concluded.

The sector has shrunk since the 1950s and some industries have gone entirely overseas, according to the report issued Friday by the University of Virginia Miller Center commission.

The commission is chaired by former governors Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a Republican, and Evan Bayh of Indiana, a Democrat. Jennifer Clark, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, is on the panel.

Nationally, manufacturing jobs have fallen to about 12.1 million, from nearly 20 million in 1979. That decline has occurred as the total workforce has grown from 98.3 million to 145.8 million. In the early 1950s, more than three of every 10 jobs were in manufacturing.

In Georgia, manufacturing employment peaked in late 1997 at 556,700, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now there are roughly 361,000 manufacturing jobs in Georgia.

In the report, “Building a Nation of Makers,” the commission proposed six ways to speed up innovation for America’s small and medium-sized manufacturing companies. They include:

• Government-backed loans for hiring and training workers.

• Programs that give college credit for work experience, military training and other acquisition of skills.

• A “skills census” in which employers would be surveyed by state governments on their “current and projected skills needs.”

• “Mapping” America’s supply chain to help figure out what business needs in infrastructure and new technologies.

• More intense training for high school students in technology and engineering and certification for acquiring those skills.

• A Commerce Department program to link small and medium-sized manufacturers with the latest innovations.

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