It's a common claim that American manufacturing employment has been declining for decades—the implication being that decline is an ingrained fact of life and there's no point trying to untangle the causes to try to address them. Reality is a little different, as the Economic Policy Institute's Robert E. Scott shows:
In fact, manufacturing employment was relatively stable between 1969 and 2000, generally ranging between 16.7 million and 19.6 million workers. [...]It's true that manufacturing as a share of employment has been declining steadily. But decline in absolute numbers is a much more recent phenomenon. The U.S. could and should have a manufacturing policy, including taking steps to end Chinese currency manipulation, to try to reverse this decline.
Manufacturing has been hit with two distinct waves of job losses since 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, growing trade deficits were largely responsible for the loss of 3.9 million manufacturing jobs. In this period, employment declined in both non-durables (-20.3 percent) and durables (-19.8 percent) at similar rates. The great recession eliminated another 2.3 million jobs between 2007 and Jan. 2010 as the demand for cars and other manufactured goods collapsed.