Bearing the Brunt: Manufacturing Job Loss in the Great Lakes Region, 1995-2005

Alec Friedhoff and Howard Wial


Analysis of manufacturing employment and production in seven Great Lakes states and their metro-politan areas from 1995 through 2005 finds that:

  • More than one-third of the nation’s loss of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005 occurred in seven Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Between 1995 and 2005, the United States lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs. Nearly all of this job loss occurred during the last five years, and 37.5 percentof the loss occurred in the seven Great Lakes states. Michigan lost the most manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005 (nearly 218,000), followed by Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

  • Despite these job losses, manufacturing remains a major driver of the nation’s economy and the economy of the Great Lakes region. Because productivity was higher in manufacturing than in other sectors of the economy, in 2004, manufacturing accounted for a higher share of gross state product than its share of employment, both nationwide and in six of the seven states in the Great Lakes manufacturing belt. In addition, productivity in the manufacturing sector increased by 38 percent between 1997 and 2004, a much higher increase than the 24.4 percent growth in productivity for all non-farm businesses during that same time period.

  • Manufacturing job losses were pervasive in Great Lakes metropolitan areas. All but one of the 25 largest manufacturing-dependent metropolitan areas in the Great Lakes region lost manufacturing jobs during the last decade (1995-2005), often at a faster rate than the United States as a whole. Chicago and Detroit lost the most manufacturing jobs in the last five years (over 100,000 jobs each), while Canton, OH, and Flint, MI, lost the greatest shares of manufacturing employment.

  • The metropolitan areas in which manufacturing employment peaked between 1995 and 1997 tended to experience more severe manufacturing job losses between 1995 and 2005 than those in which manufacturing peaked later. The 13 metropolitan areas where manufacturing employment peaked between 1995 and 1997 saw an average 26.8 percent decline in manufacturing employment between 1995 and 2005. In the other 11 metropolitan areas where manufacturing employment peaked later, between 1998 and 2000, the average metropolitan area lost 18.9 percentof its manufacturing jobs during the decade.

  • Manufacturing job losses were a major reason for slow overall job growth, and sometimes overall job losses, in Great Lakes metropolitan areas. Furthermore, employment gains in high-wage advanced service industries, which occurred in all but one of the 25 metropolitan areas studied, were not large enough to offset the loss of manufacturing jobs in most areas.

Although not all manufacturing jobs can or should be saved, a combination of trade, health care, and economic and workforce development policies can help to retain and expand employment in high-productivity manufacturing in the United States.



Alec Friedhoff

Communications Officer & Associate Fellow - Metropolitan Policy Program