Mechanical engineering jobs are growing: 1999-2017

Mechanical engineering jobs are taking off. From 1999 to 2017, the number of jobs has increased from 200,000 to 295,000.

Mechanical Engineering

During the same period, the median salary increased from $55,000 to $87,000 in nominal dollars. (This amounts to a less-impressive $82,000 to $87,000 in inflation-adjusted 2017 dollars, but it’s still a raise).

(This data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Survey).

With so much talk about the decline of US manufacturing, what’s happening with the growth of mechanical engineers?

Did manufacturing decline? (And when?)

Let’s chart the trend of Production Occupations, a category which includes a massive variety of manufacturing (and some other) occupations. I’ve pulled out data going back to 1999, which is about as early as this data goes. (It does go back to 1995 but the categorization becomes tricky).

Production Occupations Full

Manufacturing fell in two waves: first in 1999-2003, then during the Great Recession from 2008-2010.

The first wave was worse, and the jobs never recovered. The second wave was significant, but jobs have partly recovered.

How is it that these production workers fell by ~3 million workers at the same time mechanical engineering jobs increased by 95,000?

Different styles of manufacturing

Production Occupations consists of manufacturing line workers like machinists, hand polishing workers, and pressing machine technicians. Both mechanical engineers and and line workers are involved in manufacturing. Mechanical engineers are involved in the design of products or the programming of complex automated manufacturing equipment. Meanwhile, line workers usually do more repetitive manual tasks.

When products become more complicated, or manufacturing processes become more automated, need for mechanical engineers increases while need for line workers decreases. There will be a continued need for line workers (there are still 9 million workers in production occupations), but the trend of more complicated and automated manufacturing is likely to boost mechanical engineering jobs more than production line workers.

Michigan: “carbon steel valley”

The growth of mechanical engineering jobs has been most pronounced in one state: Michigan. The state has roughly tripled its mechanical engineering jobs over the time span from ~13,000 to ~44,000.

16% of all U.S. mechanical engineering jobs are now in Michigan. This might not seem like much, but the state has only 3% of the nation’s population. This gives Michigan a location quotient (LQ) of over 5.1. This is a very high number–second place is Wisconsin with only 1.87.


Location Quotients (LQ) for mechanical engineering. An LQ greater than 1 indicates a state has a concentration of mechanical engineers higher than the national average.



Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment Statistics

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