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4 Ways the American Worker Is Back

Michael Santoli
Credit AP

America’s workers are shaking off the effects of the Great Recession and beginning to swagger again. While the official unemployment rate remains high, Americans are feeling better about job prospects as the housing recovery, booming car sales and record exports build economic confidence. Here’s why:

1. Layoffs are dwindling and jobs are becoming easier to find. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits last week fell to the second-lowest level since 2008. The Labor Department reports that 14 Americans voluntarily left a job for another opportunity for every 10 who were laid off or fired – a level of labor-market strength that has returned to 2007 levels. The volume of advertised job openings is up 80% since the depths of the recession in 2009. As a result of this improved demand for workers, more than half of those answering a long-running survey said they believe it would be somewhat or very easy for them to find a new job if necessary.

2. In 2013, American workers will make more than 15 million new cars for the second straight year, returning auto production to its highest level since 2006. Ford Motor Co. last week reported record profits in North America, where the company’s leading Fusion and Escape models each enjoyed sales growth of 25% from a year earlier. Pent-up demand for cars, with more Americans working and able to afford new wheels, meant that Ford’s average selling price last quarter rose $1,000 to $32,784.

3. American workers are making more of what the rest of the world wants to buy. While the outsourcing of jobs overseas still gets headlines for politicians, the fact is that U.S. exports of goods and services last year reached a new high of almost $2.2 trillion last year, up 39% from 2009. The number of American jobs supported by exports of everything from wheat to machinery to software rose to 9.8 million last year, according to the Commerce Department, up 15% since 2009.

4. Before long, American labor will nearly eliminate China’s manufacturing-cost advantage by growing ever more productive and exploiting domestic energy and transportation resources. In a report titled “Made in America, Again,” researchers at the Boston Consulting Group determined that, by 2015, it will be just as economical to manufacture many goods destined for American consumers in the U.S. as producing them in China and shipping them here. This is both due to steady wage gains by Chinese labor and the fact that U.S. workers are so much more productive per hour of work. While total domestic manufacturing employment will never return to mid-20th century heights, expect to hear a lot more about “insourcing” of industrial jobs thanks to America’s burgeoning low-cost natural gas supplies and sophisticated transportation logistics.