Each July 4, we celebrate our nation’s independence and again take pride in America’s history. This pride comes from knowing that the courage, determination and hard work of generations of Americans before us – many of whom fought and died to preserve our liberty – made our country what it is today.
That pride also has a lot to do with the spirit of innovation that has always defined America — and the economic strength we have achieved as a country that makes things. For so long, so much of what makes the world run has been built here. That success, in turn, has built a strong middle class.
As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s take the opportunity to think about what we can to do continue our tradition of making things here— and strengthen America’s economic independence. It’s because we value that independence so highly that we’re committed to rebuilding America’s manufacturing strength.
When more products are made here, more families will be able to make it here in America, as well. Stronger U.S. manufacturing can help us keep pace with international competitors, and keep America a place of world-leading innovation and a strong middle class.
That’s why we’re sponsoring the JOBS Act – short for Job Opportunities Between our Shores – designed to build job-training partnerships between advanced manufacturing businesses and colleges.
Those partnerships can build U.S. businesses by helping workers find their way to the most promising fields—and help Americans find the opportunities where their skills are most needed.
Advanced manufacturing businesses have already been some of the most successful participants in federal job-training partnerships, and this legislation will build on that success.
But the act is just one part of the Democrats’ broader manufacturing agenda. This is especially important today—because, unfortunately, manufacturing employment is in a long-term decline.
The number of Americans now employed in making things is close to its lowest point since World War II. Nearly 20 million Americans once worked in manufacturing. Today, we’re just above half that. This trend is especially painful for our middle class, because manufacturing jobs pay an average of $11,000 per year more than jobs in other sectors.
The future of U.S. manufacturing should matter to all of us. It clearly matters to our international competitiveness: China surpassed the United States last year in total dollar value of manufacturing output, according to estimates recently published by IHS Global Insight. When our manufacturing falls behind, the rest of our economy suffers disproportionately: Sales of manufactured products stimulate more activity across our entire economy than the output of any other sector.
The future of manufacturing also matters to the future of American innovation. Some claim that the United States can remain an innovation leader even as American-invented goods roll off of assembly lines overseas.
But that model is already failing us. In industries from computer chips to precision optics to advanced display screens to photovoltaic cells, the United States lost its lead in innovation when production moved overseas.
One example is the production of advanced batteries that will power electric vehicles. Here’s how Intel’s Andy Grove explained it: “The U.S. lost its lead in batteries 30 years ago when it stopped making consumer-electronics devices….U.S. companies didn’t participate in the first phase and consequently weren’t in the running for all that followed. I doubt they will ever catch up.”
But Democrats are advancing a manufacturing agenda to turn those troubling trends around. We aim to create the conditions for U.S. businesses to invest here, grow here, build products here and sell them to the world. President Barack Obama has already signed six bills on Democrats’ manufacturing agenda: to speed up our patent process; support the growing energy sector; support small businesses with tax cuts and loans, and strengthen science, technology, engineering and math education.
Democrats are now offering more ideas to strengthen our manufacturing and our international competitiveness. In addition to the JOBS Act, another new bill would expand and make permanent the research and development tax credit, creating a stronger incentive for companies to invest in new technology and helping us keep pace in innovation with countries like China.
Also on the agenda is a more efficient corporate tax code, to promote growth and job creation by helping businesses make more decisions based on economic common sense, rather than maximizing tax write-offs.
There’s a reason why rebuilding our manufacturing strength hits a deep chord with labor and business leaders, in both red and blue states: Because we take pride in making things, and we’re worried we might lose that tradition; because we take pride in our culture of opportunity, and we’re worried it won’t be there for our children.
But if we make wise choices today, our children can enjoy the same opportunity we did. On Independence Day, all Americans can be proud of how far we’ve come as a nation.
Let’s remember, though, that we owe our freedom and prosperity to the hard work of the generations that came before us—and work just as hard to pass them on.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the House Democratic whip. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee.
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