The Trump administration seems obsessed with stemming the downtrend in the number of U.S. factory jobs. Posted on the White House website is a statement called “Trade Deals That Work For All Americans.” Among other things, it asserts that “blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base.”
It’s true that employment in U.S. manufacturing facilities has been sliding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of factory workers peaked in 1979 at 19.4 million and has fallen to 12.3 million today. Sounds like a textbook example of a sector in decline, right?

Well, it depends on the perspective. Let’s compare with another sector — agriculture — that has gone through a major structural adjustment. Employment on U.S. farms peaked around 1910 at 11.8 million, which accounted for 31 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. Since then the number of farm operators and hired workers has declined precipitously to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 million people, or 1.6 percent of total employment.