Manufacturing Jobs Aren’t the Well-Paying Jobs They Used to Be

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The number of temporary blue-collar workers is soaring.

Chris Young works a blue-collar manufacturing job at Nissan’s production plant in Smyrna, Tenn. But Young isn’t a Nissan employee. He works for Yates Services, a Tennessee-based company that provides industrial services to Nissan North America.

As The Washington Post reports, Young is one of thousands of temporary employees working in the U.S. manufacturing industry – repairing machinery, laboring on the production line and stocking goods in warehouses.

Unfortunately, the disparity between manufacturing workers and their temp-worker counterparts is significant, says the Post. Yates pays between $10 and $18 per hour, just half of what Nissan employees make.

“I build the same Infiniti SUV that Bob does,” says Young, referring to a hypothetical Nissan worker. “Bob is able to lease a vehicle, I cannot. Long-term disability? Bob gets that, I do not. I can provide this much for my family when I die. Bob can double his base. But Bob and I are on the same line, busting our butts.”

The Post article provides some staggering statistics about the change in the workforce in Tennessee, where Young toils away at the Nissan plant for $32,000 a year.

  • In 2009, Tennessee had 51,867 temp workers. By 2012, the number of temp employees had skyrocketed to 80,990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Temporary workers account for nearly all of Tennessee’s job growth since the Great Recession.
  • Temp workers make up 3.1 percent of the jobs in Tennessee, one of the highest in the nation, says the Post.

Nissan is not alone in employing temporary manufacturing workers. “Companies from Amazon to Asurion to Dell have outsourced their warehouses and call centers to the hundreds of staffing agencies that have cropped up in the region,” said the Post.

And elsewhere around the country? Temp workers are becoming a permanent fixture, says ProPublica:

The temp industry now employs 2.8 million workers – the highest number and highest proportion of the American workforce in history. As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, temp work has grown nine times faster than private-sector employment as a whole. Overall, nearly one-sixth of the total job growth since the recession ended has been in the temp sector.

Low pay, few benefits and scant job security. The Post article offers a bleak, but realistic look at today’s manufacturing industry.

That’s what so much of the modern manufacturing economy looks like: Good enough money to live on, but without the other comforts that used to come with a middle-class job, and no reason for an employer to offer them up.

Are you surprised by the number of temporary workers in blue-collar jobs? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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