Manufacturing employment peaked in the U.S. in June 1979. After rebounding for several years after the last recession, the sector shedanother 45,000 jobs in 2016, according to theemployment reportreleased today.
But there is a manufacturing industry that addedjobsin 2016. And while it's not quite at its all-time peak, employment in this industry isa lot higher than it was in the 1970s. It also involves poorly paid, unpleasant work that you may not think of as manufacturing.
Guessed it yet? It'sanimal slaughtering and meat processing, which employed an estimated 495,300 Americans inNovember (jobs numbers for manyindustries are reported with a one-month lag), seasonally adjusted, up from 488,600 the year before.
Back in June 1979, animal slaughtering and meat processing represented 1.9percent of total U.S. manufacturing employment. Now it's 4percent. The industryemploys more than twice asmany people as doesmotor vehiclemanufacturing, whichgets alotmore attention from politicians and the news media.The workers arepaid abouthalf as much as motor vehicle makers(among production and non-supervisory workers, they averaged $14.72an hour in November compared with $29.33 for motor vehicle workers), and they oftenlabor under deplorableconditions. A lot of them are recent immigrants, and they're mostly scattered across the country farfrom the centers of power and wealth.
Low pay, poorworking conditions and a high percentageof recent-immigrant workers are nothing new for slaughterhouses. Decentralization is, though (at least if you define "new" pretty expansively). From the Civil War through the 1920s, the industry was headquarteredon the South Side of Chicago, where trainloads of cattle and hogs came in and trainloads of steaks, hams and such went back out. It was one of thefirst modern, assembly-line manufacturing industries, led by two of the great 19th-century businesstitans, Philip Armour and Gustavus Swift.I'm in Chicago right now and have beenreading about Armour and Swift, which iswhat inspired me to look into slaughterhouse employment for my monthly off-kilter examination of the jobs report.
With the rise of trucking, vast, centralizedstockyards and slaughterhouses in the middle of what was then the nation's second-largest citydidn't make quite asmuch sense anymore. Chicago'sUnion Stock Yardsshut down in 1971. The only major slaughterhouse left in town, as best I can tell,is ahalal facilityin the old stockyards district a few blocks southwest ofGuaranteed Rate Field, theridiculous new nameof the place wherethe White Sox play. Also, the big growth in animal slaughtering and processing employment since the 1970s hasn't been so much in beef and porkslaughterhousesas inpoultry-processingfacilities, and all thebiggest chicken-raising states arein the South.
As a result of both the decentralization of beef and pork processing and the rise of the chicken, the geography of animal slaughtering and processing employment in the U.S. now looks like this (these numbers are from theQuarterly Census of Employment and Wages; the most recent data available is from June):
The location quotient measures the industry's relative importance to a state. The numbermeans that Nebraskanworkers, for example, are 7.73 times more likely to be employed in animal slaughtering and processing than American workers in general are. Three states with highlocation quotients that didn't make this list because they aren't very populous are Delaware(5.32), Mississippi (4.36) and South Dakota (3.92).
So ... there youhave it. I'll be honest: I have no grand conclusion here; I was just curious. Iwas tempted to say that all this isevidence that manufacturing jobs aren't necessarily good jobs, but in a lot of the places where animal slaughtering and meat processing is done, it provides better workthan whatever else is available. I was also tempted to say that it's a manufacturing industry where workers are unlikely to be replaced with robots, butthat's not necessarily true. In any case, it is one of the oldest industries and, until we all turn vegetarian, it's not going away.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Justin Fox is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of "The Myth of the Rational Market."
Motor vehiclemanufacturing of course creates lots of other jobs in parts plants, steel and aluminum mills, dealerships, and so on. Animal slaughtering and processing creates lots of related jobs, too,though.
There were several newspaper articles about a decade ago about the looming closing of the "last majorslaughterhouse in Chicago," Chiappetti Veal and Lamb. Chiappetti lives on as a subsidiary of Strauss Brands Inc., which is based in Wisconsin, while its old Chicago stockyards location is occupied by Barkaat Foods, where an imals "are Hand slaughtered by Muslims which accommodates universal Zabiha standards." Want a "virtual tour"?
No, I don't know why the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data on poultry processing employment going back to while the numbers for the overall animal slaughtering and processing industry only go back to But I figured I should use all the numbers available to me.
What's with Delaware?Sussex County, at the southern end of the state, is the birthplace of the broiler chicken industry