Heavy industry remains a central pillar of the Northwest Indiana economy, even though the days of steel mills employing 30,000 workers apiece are long gone, and the United States no longer employs anywhere close to the 19.5 million factory workers it did at the peak of manufacturing employment in 1979.
The more highly automated manufacturing sector showed signs of life in 2018, adding 284,000 more workers nationwide, including 32,000 in December.
"The 116th Congress must keep this growth in mind and support policies that will strengthen this trend, such as robust infrastructure investment. With more manufacturing jobs, communities throughout the country grow," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a joint initiative between the United Steelworkers union and leading manufacturers to promote manufacturing.
The United States added 2.6 million jobs overall in 2018, ending the year with a jobless rate of 3.9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The U.S. Federal Reserve estimates the manufacturing industry now employs about 12.8 million people nationwide, more than a third off the peak but up from the recent low of 11.4 million in 2010.
Indiana added 3,100 manufacturing jobs in November, the most recent month for which data was available, according to the Indiana Department for Workforce Development.
The manufacturing sector is crucial to the overall Northwest Indiana economy with average earnings of $80,000 a year, Indiana University Northwest Assistant Professor of Economics Micah Pollak wrote in his 2019 economic forecast for the Gary metropolitan area. Primary metal manufacturing workers, for instance, account for only 6 percent of the Region's overall workforce but more than 12 percent of the wages.