Primary metals manufacturing has lost 84,000 jobs over last decade

East Chicago Tin is pictured above. The primary metals manufacturing industry, which includes steel mills and steel product manufacturing, has shed 18 percent of its workforce over the last 10 years.

The number of jobs in primary metals manufacturing, the subsector of manufacturing that includes steel mills and steel service centers, has fallen sharply over the last decade.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 84,000 primary metals jobs have vanished over the past 10 years, a decline of more than 18 percent. The manufacturing industry subsector, which also includes aluminum, foundries and nonferrous metals, employed about 375,100 workers nationally in January, down from 459,000 during the same time in 2007.

Last year, primary metals manufacturing lost 8,600 jobs, a decline of 2.2 percent. The subsector has lost 27,100 jobs since 2014, a decline of 6.7 percent.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed about 19,000 layoffs in the steel industry over the past few years on a global import crisis triggered by rampant overcapacity that led China to dump steel below cost across the world. Nearly a third of the steel purchased in the United States in 2015 was made overseas, and steelmakers responded by cuts at Gary Works, East Chicago Tin and other local mills.

Industry observers also have pointed to increased automation as a cause for declining employment in the steel industry and manufacturing generally, and a reason why many lost jobs are unlikely to ever return.

An ongoing problem has been that Northwest Indiana has been losing good-paying primary metals manufacturing jobs, and replacing them with retail, service sector and hospitality jobs that don’t pay nearly as well, Indiana University Northwest Assistant Professor of Economics Micah Pollak said.

“It’s the same story – we’re not creating well-paying jobs,” he said. “Unemployment looks good, the rate is low, but jobs are not paying as well.”

Though headcounts are down, primary metals manufacturing – an industry that’s largely unionized – still pays well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average worker in the subsector makes $26.39 an hour while working 42.5 hours a week.

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.