The headline in today’s Wall Street Journal caught my attention: “Bringing Jobs Back to the U.S. Is Bruising Task.” The article describes the Reshoring Initiative, a nonprofit group that helps companies return production to the US. 80% of these companies are relatively small, with revenues of $200 million or less.
The article describes that a key barrier to bring work back is the declining quality of the labor force in the US. One of the issues is the lack of a good work ethic. One company reports that when the announced that a drug test would be held for plant workers the following day, 20% of the work force didn’t show up for work.
2 + 2 = 5
But an even more fundamental problem — as has been widely reported before — is that American workers often don’t have the skills needed to run even basic manufacturing machinery. The owner of a scented candle company that originally sourced in China and Vietnam reports that even elementary school math skills are absent in many of her US employees — including both line workers and supervisors.
As I understand it, making candles ain’t brain surgery. If US workers can’t run candle making machines, how would they do in a factory making advanced electronics, or even cars?
This brings to mind the various surveys that continually report the low and falling test scores of US students relative to those in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. (See, for example, data below from the 2012 Programs for International Student Assessment that originally appeared in the Washington Post.) This is not just some abstract global game of Jeopardy — it ultimately matters to how people put food on their table.
And to the future of the US economy as a whole. While we in the US pride ourselves on our consumer-led economy, it’s clear that people can’t continue to consume stuff indefinitely if they don’t have adequate jobs. The consumer-led economy only works when the people who buy stuff do so with money made by working in factories that make stuff.