Eric Wieffering has covered Minnesota's economy and business community for more than two decades. His column appears two to three times a week, including Sunday.

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Jobs go away, pay stays flat

Posted by: Eric Wieffering under Economics, Industry, The economy Updated: January 10, 2012 - 9:15 AM

High school students are getting some bad advice from policy makers, business interests and even educators: They're being told to skip college and pursue jobs in the manufacturing sector because of a supposed "shortage" of skilled workers.

Here's the advice they should be given. Go to college. But, if you insist on a career in the manufacturing sector, get yourself citizenship in Finland, or Austria or the Netherlands, countries where manufacturing wages and total compensation are rising faster than in the U.S.

This is one conclusion to government data released a few days before Christmas that shows the United States ranks 14th in the world for manufacturing wages and compensation. Four of the 13 countries had lower manufacturing pay rates than the U.S. in 1997, but now rank higher. Wage growth in most of the remaining countries in the top 14 easily outstripped growth in the U.S.

Here's how total hourly compensation (which includes wages and benefits) compares at the Top 3 countries vs. the U.S.:

Norway: $57.23

Switzerland: $53.20

Belgium: $50.70

U.S.: $34.74

In last place, the Phillipines: $1.90.

Note that hourly pay in many of those countries represents only 50 or 60 percent of total compensation costs (the rest going to unemployment insurance, health care, and other social safety net programs). Still, the average hourly wage is higher in 12 of the countries ranked ahead of the U.S.

The data is for 1997 through 2010, a period that saw the U.S. lose 29 percent, or 5 million, of its manufacturing jobs.


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