Line graphs are usually nothing to get excited about. But this particular graph released today by the Chicago Fed tells the story of manufacturing over the last decade. Represented in that one bold line are the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in the Midwest. The bold line shows the jobs that were lost, the factories that were shut down and the products we no longer make. We can learn a lot from where that line has been, and where it seems to be headed.
Now, look at the slightly thinner line. That line is manufacturing for the country as a whole. See how it didn’t dip nearly as far as the bold line in 2009? That tells you how much harder we got hit in the Midwest.
But we can learn a lot from the rise of those lines as well. Even though many, many people in the Midwest are still out of a job, our manufacturing sector is improving dramatically. We had it much worse than the rest of the nation when things got bad. But over the past two years, Midwest manufacturing has improved at better than twice the rate as the rest of the country.
The Chicago Fed also provides a set of data with a longer view of things. In that data, we can see that our manufacturing sector is now more productive than its been since September of 2008. But that number is still worse than it had been for the previous ten years. So, things are bad. But at least we’ve made it back to where we were in 1997.
The economic transformation of the Midwest has been the story of our lives for at least the past three years. Depending on where you live, the transformation has been going on for a lot longer. But as the economy transforms, one thing isn’t changing: This is a region that makes things.
The line proves it.