By Jeff Ayres, The Clarion-Ledger
A New York City nonprofit says in a new study that pay for manufacturing employees in Mississippi and the nation has lagged over the last decade, even as jobs are now returning to the country as the recession fades.
The National Employment Law Project, which describes itself as advocating for lower-paid workers in a host of industries, indicates manufacturing employees in Mississippi earn a median wage of $14.02 an hour as of 2013.
That figure, the group says, is 45 percent below the national median income and 25 percent less than the state’s median income across all industries. It’s 13 percent less than manufacturing employees’ median wage in other states. Nationally, the median manufacturing wage fell by 5.2 percent between 2003 and 2013, the report says. A Mississippi-specific figure wasn’t immediately available.
The last few years have seen a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as the economy continues a slow rebound, says Catherine Ruckelshaus, a co-author of the report. “The problem is, the jobs that are coming back aren’t as good as what was lost. The pay is less, and they often are filled by workers from temporary-labor companies,” she said.
High unemployment, a problem still plaguing Mississippi, also has contributed to an environment unfairly titled, Ruckleshaus says, toward the employer in terms of what a worker earns and how many hours they work. She says the trends observed in the report can be addressed by states implementing very specific job requirements when providing financial assistance to employers and through greater collective bargaining efforts from workers.
Jay Moon, executive director of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, says he hasn’t read NELP’s report and isn’t familiar with the organization. But he says manufacturing jobs remain as competitive in terms of pay and benefits as any other industry, often more so. Wage growth overseas and lower domestic energy costs, he said, have brought jobs back to Mississippi that had moved outside the country’s borders.
But manufacturing is changing, too, he said, with greater emphasis on more technologically driven advanced manufacturing that requires a greater skill set than what Mississippi’s workforce has traditionally provided. The state’s workforce training board has launched programs to prepare community-college students for tomorrow’s jobs, but more work lies ahead, he said.
“We have to produce the skill set needed in advanced manufacturing. There is a shortage of those skills across the country,” Moon said.
Automotive-parts manufacturing is of particular concern to the NELP. Mississippians in that sector earned a median $13.55 an hour in 2013, nine percent less than in 2004 and 14 percent less than the national average in that industry, according to the report.
Mississippi employs about 8,000 people collectively at Nissan Canton and a Toyota manufacturing plant in Blue Springs as well as several thousand more at various suppliers to those plants. Moon says the decade-long growth of the state’s automotive sector shows those jobs pay well and attract top-notch candidates.
“Those are critical jobs,” he said.
Ruckelshaus says they and other manufacturing employees earn what they do in great part because a number of them are placed in those jobs by temporary-labor firms that can’t pay what a large employer can. The use of employees from temporary-work agencies has been a major issue for supporters of a union vote at Nissan Canton, although the automaker says all its 6,000-plus current workers are considered full-time Nissan employees.
Moon says employers need flexibility in what they pay workers and whether they’re hired part-time or full-time because of lingering uncertainty over the cost impact of volatile markets and impending federal regulations, including employer provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
The NELP report was compiled largely through state and federal data kept by such agencies as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.