Putting an Industry Back to Work
Putting an Industry Back to Work

The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics is a gold mine of always interesting facts and figures. One big category the bureau tracks is Automotive, with a variety of items watched and measured over time. Recently, the one that caught my eye was the figures on automotive industry salary figures versus time worked.

While the study has tracked these numbers over a long period of time, it shows the last year of reporting for comparison in its charts, and that's what I was reading. I should also point out how the bureau itself classifies this category, which is very broad in scope: "The automotive industry includes industries associated with the production, wholesaling, retailing and maintenance of motor vehicles. This industry is not formally defined in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), but the Bureau of Labor Statistics is referring to a group of detailed industries as the 'automotive industry' for purposes of analysis. This list is not exhaustive, but includes industries that can be directly impacted by changes in U.S. production and sales of motor vehicles."

For vehicle and parts manufacturing, the industry actually grew by about 45 thousand people year-over-year, although the high was in August - the numbers have dropped slightly since then, according to this report. On the retail side, parts dealers grew by a total of about 30 thousand, showing a more continuous growth without the dips and valleys seen on the manufacturing side. The numbers for both halves of the parts industry held true across both the seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted figures for the most part, which is always a good sign in my mind - as an industry overall, we're growing, rather than just seeing spikes around times of year or events.

Want another interesting figure? Indiana led the pack as the state with the biggest chunk of hiring. Michigan was still up there, following close behind, and Alabama rounded out the top three states by number of people hired. Ohio and Missouri lost the largest number of workers, with New York, Ohio and Kentucky all showing losses in terms of the number of people employed in the industry as well.

At the same time we've seen that growth, the industry average earnings have, across the board, fallen. In some cases the change is negligible — six cents was the change for parts wholesalers, for example. On the other hand, the average hourly wage of a motor vehicle manufacturer employee dropped by $1.18 — a significant drop. Now, I don't think the industry is out cutting salaries of the average worker at all — that's not what this suggests to me. Rather, in my mind, it suggests that the hiring going on is driving down the averages because we are targeting the lower end of the spectrum. In other words — the growth is coming in the form of the lower-wage jobs, which beef up employment numbers, but drive down the averages when it comes to earnings.

Given the current economic outlook in the United States, I can't help but be a little encouraged by that, to tell you the truth. It means that, as an industry, we are putting people back to work. And not just executives, or people who had the time and money to afford to earn one or more higher education degrees. But the average worker for whom work is imperative to put food on the table and keep the heat on this winter.