Where Did All the Workers Go? 60 Years of Economic Change in 1 Graph
President Obama’s State of the Union speech was surprisingly bullish on reviving manufacturing, prompting one very clever person on Twitter to say something along the lines of: “Democrats want the economy of the 1950s, while Republicans just want to live there.”
It got me thinking: What did the economy look like in the 1950s? If you could organize all the jobs into buckets and compare the paper-shuffling professional services bucket to the manufacturing bucket, what would they look like around 1950, and how has the picture changed in the last 60 years? Read more.
[Image: Brian McGill and Peter Bell/National Journal]
Derek Thompson uses a National Journal chart from their Winter 2010 supplement, The Next Economy, to track the shift from a manufacturing-dominated U.S. economy in 1947 to a primarily service industry-based one by 2009. The chart measures the percentage of GDP each sector accounted for, rather than the percentage of total jobs.
Thompson summarizes this shift succinctly:
The big story about American jobs in the post-war period is this: The manufacturing/agriculture economy shrunk from 33% to 12%, and the services economy grew from 24% to 50%. I don’t want to leave you with a facile explanation, but for the purposes of space, I think it’s acceptable to say that as manufacturing and agriculture got more efficient, they required fewer American workers, while the services industry (which had slower efficiency gains since it has more person-to-person work) required more employees to keep up with the rising demand for consulting, nurses, teachers, computer technicians, and so on.