The Post-Recession Rebound of Production Workers

October 3, 2012 by Emsi Burning Glass

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We’ve written before about the shift in the US economy away from production and to services, a trend that isn’t likely to change soon. Yet production workers still serve a key function in export-oriented industries.

And in most states, production occupations are rallying after major job losses during the Great Recession. The resurgence is seen most among computer-controlled machine tool operators, an occupation with more workers now than in 2007. But machinists, engine assemblers, and other production jobs are getting close to pre-recession employment levels.

To find the occupations that have bounced back the most after suffering the greatest during the recession, we looked at jobs that declined at least 10% nationally from 2007 to 2009. A group of 181 occupations fell, quite literally, into this category, according to EMSI’s 2012.3 dataset.

Of those 181 detailed job titles, only 14 grew by at least 10% from 2010 to 2012. All were production jobs.

SOC CodeOccupation2012 Jobs2007-09 % Change2010-12 % ChangeMedian Hourly WageTypical Education Level51-4041Metal-Refining Furnace Operators and Tenders20,139-16%16%$18.70Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4194Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic139,071-13%14%$16.99Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4011Pourers and Casters, Metal12,069-23%13%$16.72Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4051Engine and Other Machine Assemblers41,345-16%13%$18.43Short-term on-the-job training51-4122Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic22,140-14%13%$22.44Moderate-term on-the-job training51-2031Foundry Mold and Coremakers12,731-25%12%$14.94Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4052Rolling Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic38,603-16%11%$17.86Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4071Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic44,180-16%11%$17.43Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4191Machinists399,883-14%11%$18.97Long-term on-the-job training51-4012Tool and Die Makers76,178-20%10%$22.72Long-term on-the-job training51-4023Heat Treating Equipment Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic22,101-19%10%$16.10Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4034Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders45,289-18%10%$16.69Postsecondary non-degree award51-4035Tool Grinders, Filers, and Sharpeners12,814-17%10%$16.61Moderate-term on-the-job training51-4111Milling and Planing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic24,070-16%10%$17.58Moderate-term on-the-job trainingTotal910,612-15%12%$18.58Source: QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees & Self-Employed - EMSI 2012.3 Class of Worker

As the table shows, some of these occupations are still a ways off from fully recovering from the damage wrought by the downturn. Foundry mold and coremakers (-25%); pourers and casters, metal (-23%); and tool and die makers (-20%) had a particularly tough time, and their double-digit percentage gains have only made up for about half of the jobs shed in each occupation.

But metal-refining furnace operators and tenders, a small occupation with slightly more than 20,000 estimated jobs in the US, has expanded 16% since 2010 (after falling 16%). And computer-controlled machine tool operators (see image from Analyst on right) is second on our list with 14% growth.

A Broader Look

Taking a step back to the broadest occupation groups, production has grown 4.6% since 2010, according to EMSI’s 2012.3 covered employment dataset. That’s the second-highest percentage behind computer and math occupations.

During the recession, only construction occupations declined more (-18%) than production (-14%).

State Perspective

States with major manufacturing presences have seen some of the biggest rebounds in the production sector. Yet North Dakota, which didn’t lose nearly as much as of its employment base during the recession as the Rust Belt states, has led the US in production job growth since 2010 (15%). Next is Michigan, which has made up half of its 2007-2009 job losses with the auto industry on the mend.

Indiana has the most production workers per capita in the nation (84% more than the national average), and it’s tied for third with Oklahoma for the largest percentage job increase since 2010. Both states have grown 10%.

Arkansas and Delaware are the only two states to lose production jobs since 2010.

State Name2012 Jobs2010-12 Change2010-12 % Change2007-09 % ChangeMedian Hourly Earnings2012 National Location QuotientNorth Dakota21,7542,83015%-5%$16.370.79Michigan385,86841,18912%-24%$16.901.51Oklahoma114,53610,62710%-13%$15.251.11Indiana339,68030,35910%-20%$15.501.84Washington165,78712,8218%-11%$18.640.86South Dakota28,9132,2028%-8%$14.131.09Iowa157,75211,9378%-11%$15.371.64South Carolina175,73013,2288%-14%$15.391.46Kentucky165,11112,3868%-17%$15.291.38Texas667,60749,5368%-9%$15.010.95Utah82,5825,2817%-12%$15.481.04Tennessee235,22114,8377%-18%$14.611.36Ohio466,89728,1296%-18%$15.841.41Minnesota210,83212,6416%-12%$16.511.22Illinois441,57726,4686%-14%$15.791.2Idaho39,4152,1726%-14%$14.640.96Wyoming12,6256736%-7%$21.980.67Colorado97,5274,8985%-11%$16.270.65Wisconsin296,39514,3005%-13%$16.261.71Kansas106,4864,5724%-10%$15.871.21Hawaii15,3246314%-9%$17.380.36Arizona107,3984,3554%-19%$15.210.67Louisiana111,9254,1284%-8%$18.480.89Alabama185,6606,4434%-15%$14.781.54Georgia265,1709,1914%-17%$14.181.04Nebraska75,2962,5864%-7%$14.931.24Montana16,6535013%-12%$14.960.59Nevada39,6131,1493%-19%$15.700.54Pennsylvania404,43611,7023%-12%$16.471.11Missouri187,9855,3963%-14%$15.091.1Alaska14,4503863%0%$18.840.64New Mexico30,9528183%-13%$16.490.59Oregon106,4122,8043%-18%$15.991North Carolina314,8548,2893%-17%$14.461.21Florida280,8406,5072%-23%$14.450.59California815,53617,2842%-13%$15.040.83Massachusetts162,8043,3472%-12%$17.030.77District of Columbia6,4861112%-6%$23.200.14Vermont20,1243342%-11%$15.671.02New York350,0015,3492%-12%$15.940.62New Hampshire42,7665301%-12%$16.361.08Connecticut99,2451,1761%-12%$18.290.94Maryland87,0877801%-10%$16.440.52Virginia173,8331,0371%-13%$15.640.71West Virginia39,9841830%-10%$15.890.85Mississippi101,2214100%-15%$13.871.42New Jersey182,2086900%-14%$16.220.74Rhode Island29,275150%-16%$15.381Maine35,745-890%-11%$16.530.94Delaware21,491-291-1%-14%$15.020.8Arkansas112,951-1,568-1%-12%$13.931.5Total8,650,021395,2715%-14%$15.64Source: EMSI Covered Employment (2012.3)

Data and analysis from this report came from Analyst, EMSI’s web-based labor market tool. Please contact Josh Wright ( if you have questions or comments. Follow us on Twitter @desktopecon.