For every man and woman who gets up early, packs a lunch pail, punches a clock, rolls up their shirtsleeves, puts in an honest day's work, and showers after they get home, this one's for you.
We just commemorated the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The march and speech gave hope to a generation of kids in places like Birmingham and Biloxi that, someday, they could experience the American Dream, get a good job, and be treated as equals.
Now contrast the lofty rhetoric at the Lincoln Memorial this past week with the present reality in Detroit and many other communities - rural and urban, Northern and Southern, large and small - that have seen a wave of deindustrialization wash over them, hollow them out, and leave despair in its wake.
As we stand in the shadow of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, we must look behind us before we can move forward. In 1950, 300,000 Detroiters worked in manufacturing. Today that number is 25,000. Some jobs vanished because of automation. Others were shipped overseas. But most disappeared simply because we didn't care.
When an "expert" tells you that an economy naturally evolves away from manufacturing, don't believe them. Countries like Germany show it's possible to have low unemployment, growing exports, stable manufacturing employment, strong unions, and decent wages at the same time. In fact, they may go well together.
But in America, our leaders didn't care enough about manufacturing to nurture it. Instead, the promise of high tech jobs, a housing boom, and the financial casino lured us elsewhere. And while bubble after bubble burst - replete with lost jobs, depressed wages, and layers of accumulated debt - 55,000 factories closed over the first decade of the 2000s, in cities and towns all over America.
As a result of that decay the tax base withered. One result: in America today, you can order up a Made in Asia 3-D TV with the click of a button and have it on your doorstep the next day, but you're lucky if you can find a decent job, let alone a safe and modern bridge over which you can drive to get to it.
But like every good American story, there's a comeback in the works.
I believe a new era of American manufacturing can rise from these ashes. Our auto companies have never made better cars. Our steel mills have never been so efficient. Even our tech industry - Apple and Google among the leaders - are bringing a few jobs back to the U.S. Most astonishing, even Walmart has caught the bug and insists it will be stocking more Made in America products on its shelves. Skepticism is still warranted until we see the results, but these anecdotes provide us with the hope that Made in America is back.
Still, obstacles remain in our way.
Our leaders may pay lip service to Made in America and manufacturing at election time, but too often they forget to follow through. If we can persuade the White House and Congress to work together and invest thoughtfully in innovation, rebuild our infrastructure, educate and train a new generation of workers, incentivize reshoring, and work to balance our international trade accounts, we can and will bring more jobs back.
This Labor Day, let's make a commitment to those boys and girls all over America who saw their hopes and dreams fade as parents got pink slips at the factory: Lets work to ReMake America and build on our strengths.
We've got plenty of them. No nation has better human capital. No nation can be more innovative or entrepreneurial. No place has better natural resources and access to a diverse array of energy sources. If we harness all of that for manufacturing, we will win. We will bring some jobs back and create new ones. And we'll put our nation on a better path towards equality and economic opportunity.
The march for economic opportunity, justice, and equality is a long one. We're still marching today, fifty years later. But we'll do our part to get there by holding the politicians' feet to the fire every day. Will you do yours?
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