U.S. jobs in manufacturing, including plastics, are continuing to grow, but hourly wages are not keeping up with the rest of the economy.
This development has caught the attention of veteran economist Alan Tonelson. In a recent post on his RealityChek blog, Tonelson pointed out that average hourly wages for U.S. manufacturing jobs fell below the average for all private sector jobs in May and July. That's the first time that's happened since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started compiling that data in 2006.
The gap was a small one: 1 cent per hour in May and 4 cents in July. But Tonelson pointed out that manufacturing wages were almost 4 percent higher than the private sector average as recently as mid-2009.
The hourly tally for manufacturing in May was $26.93 vs. $26.94 for the entire private sector. In July, those levels were $27.01 for manufacturing but $27.05 for the private sector.
By comparison, average hourly wages for plastics and rubber production workers in April was $18.32.
According to Tonelson, whose experience includes almost 20 years as a researcher with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, manufacturing's "real wage woes were also made clear in its latest year-on-year figures."
Since last July, he said, manufacturing pay is down almost 1.6 percent. That's the worst performance for that category since it notched an annual decline of almost 2.1 percent in October 2012.
Plastics, however, may be faring better than manufacturing in general.
A 2017 study from the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors said that for that year, hourly wages for several plastics production jobs were up more than 5 percent.
Some recent data on plastics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics bears this out, according to Tonelson. Wages in the resin/rubber/fibers category grew almost 3.4 percent from June 2017 to June 2018, he said in an email. But plastics products wages fell 0.1 percent in the same comparison.
Tonelson pointed out that wages in plastics products are up more than 1.3 percent since February. He added that resin/rubber/fibers wages "have really shot up" since 2015, after stagnating from 2009-15.
Frank Esposito is a Plastics News senior reporter. Follow him on Twitter @fesposito22.