Factory workers transitioning to other industries

Workers at Hoist Liftruck's new factory in East Chicago use a crane to move a forklift fork in March 2016. An Indiana University study found only about a third of Indiana manufacturing workers still worked in factories 12 years after first being tracked by the study.

Factory jobs have been disappearing, and the new jobs the economy has been creating don't pay nearly as much, according to a recent Indiana Business Research Center study.

The study tracked automotive and steel manufacturing workers in Indiana from 2003 and 2014, and found only 33 percent were still working in those same industries in Indiana 12 years later.

About 23 percent of those first tracked in 2003 moved to another manufacturing industry, while 44 percent no longer have an Indiana payroll record – because they moved out of state for work, retired, died or gave up looking for work altogether.

Indiana Business Research Center Director of Economic Analysis Timothy Slaper recently published the findings of the study on industrial change and worker transitions in Indiana University's Indiana Business Review.

The study tracked 174,865 Hoosier workers in transportation equipment manufacturing and primary metal manufacturing over the span of 12 years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that period has been extremely rocky for employment in the manufacturing sector, which has shed 5 million jobs nationally because of automation and outsourcing since 2000.

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About 45,000 of the workers, or 25 percent of the group, got unemployment benefits during 2009, the height of the Great Recession. About 43 percent of the factory workers filed for unemployment then or at some other point at least once over the 12-year period.

About 57,845 workers, or a third of the original group, signed up for one of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development's job assistance programs. About 57 percent of those workers were able to find another factory job somewhere.

"With high wages, it isn’t difficult to see why workers returned to these industries, which have recovered a significant share of the jobs lost during the Great Recession," Slaper wrote.

The study however found that 16 percent of the workers in the overall study group were no longer working in manufacturing at all by 2014. Most commonly, they moved to lower-paying administrative, retail and health care positions.

Those tracked had worked in positions that paid $60,000 to $68,000 a year, and when they transitioned to other fields their new jobs only paid $25,000 to $37,000 a year, according to the study.


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.