CNN Fact Check: The not-so-empty factory

Does President Barack Obama's claim that the U.S. created more than half a million manufacturing jobs in the past two and a half years hold up?

Story highlights

  • Manufacturing jobs reversed a long slide in 2010
  • Obama touted that turnaround in his Democratic convention speech
  • But employment in the sector remains far below its prerecession peak

The image of the empty factory has haunted American presidential campaigns for decades, but President Barack Obama tried to flip the picture Thursday night.

"I've signed trade agreements that are helping our companies sell more goods to millions of new customers, goods that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America," Obama said as he accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term. "After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years."

That may sound surprising in an era where unemployment remains stuck above 8% long after the official end of the 2007-2009 recession, so CNN took a closer look.

The facts:

American manufacturing jobs peaked in the late 1970s, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figures bounced up and down through the 1980s and 1990s before starting to drop steadily in 1998.

    Just Watched

    Watch President Obama's full speech

Watch President Obama's full speech 41:41

    Just Watched

    Carville: Obama's speech not best at DNC

Carville: Obama's speech not best at DNC 05:28

    Just Watched

    Obama: Romney 'new' to foreign policy

Obama: Romney 'new' to foreign policy 01:43

The sector employed 15.6 million in January 2002, according to BLS statistics, down from about 19.5 million in 1979. They declined steadily through the next 10 years, falling to just under 11.5 million in January 2010.

But then the numbers turned around, rising to 11.9 million at the beginning of 2012 and just under 12 million as of July.

    But while the turn has been positive, the numbers of workers being hired each month are well below the figures posted a decade ago. New hires averaged about 400,000 a month in 2001, compared with about 250,000 in 2011.

    And as with other statistics cited during the three-day Democratic convention, it's not quite the whole picture. Manufacturing sector employment is still down by about 500,000 since Obama took office and by more than 3.7 million since the start of the recession in December 2007.


    Obama's statement is technically accurate, and he and other speakers took great pains to acknowledge the still-struggling recovery. But while the return to growth in manufacturing is indeed a promising turn of events, employment in the sector is still at a net loss during Obama's tenure.

    Fact Check: The $2,000 question

    Fact Check: About those 4.5 million jobs ...

    Fact Check: Trimming the Pentagon