Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune wrote an article (Closed for business) that described the demise of the Ann Arbor News. According to Zorn, Ann Arbor has the dubious distinction of being the first major city without a daily newspaper. There is a gloomy undertone in the article, and understandably so. The death of this newspaper will have devastating consequences for many of its 274 employees.
However, upon further reflection, what is happening to the newspaper industry–in terms of job creation–is similar to what has happened to the manufacturing industry. From 1997 to 2007, the manufacturing sector shed over 3.4 million jobs (Source: State of Washington Office of Financial Management). And this long term trend continues: during the current recession, over 2.0 million manufacturing jobs have been lost (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
To see the impact behind these statistics, one only has to ride the Green Line elevated train from Oak Park, Illinois–an inner ring suburb–to downtown Chicago. One observes the hollowed-out shells of buildings where many people in the goods producing industries worked. And these manufacturing jobs were well-paying jobs.
But the TV did not replace the radio. Similarly, the decline of print journalism does not foreshadow the demise of the newspaper industry. For reading, some people prefer the touch and feel of hard copy over screens. In like manner, the outsourcing of many manufacturing jobs does not suggest that manufacturing is “dead.” In fact, the US is still the leading global manufacturer producing US$2,696,880 millions (2007) in industrial output. The US share of global output is 20% versus 12% for China (source: WSJ).
Economics account for the decline of both the US manufacturing and print-newspaper industries. Although the reasons are numerous, two prominent ones relate to changes in technology and productivity. In the case of the newspaper industry, the growth in internet technologies has revolutionized the way we obtain information. In the case of manufacturing, capital investments in automated equipment and computer technologies have greatly increased productivity resulting in significant job losses.
Still, in any capitalistic economy, there are always going to be winners and losers. One can only hope that from the ashes of the old industries, new ones will arise.