The Wage Gap With China Continues To Shrink

by: Mark J. Perry

Chart has been updated to end in 2015.

1. CNBC --"Slowing wage growth in the United States, coupled with rising wages in China and other emerging markets, could soon make the U.S. more competitive. While wage levels in China are still far below the average wage in the U.S,, better technology, transportation and services in the U.S. could help make the difference for companies, according to Bart van Ark, Chief Economist at The Conference Board.

"There are other factors at play here, from access to services, high technology and innovation, to transportation," he told CNBC Friday. As wages increase in the major cities in China, companies are having to move lower-paid jobs further inside the country, where infrastructure has not yet caught up, to get the same benefits"

2. BEIJING, China — Factories in China’s manufacturing heartland are feeling the squeeze again, with minimum wages in Guangdong province set to rise by as much as 20 percent on Jan. 1 for the second time in less than a year. And while one Chinese province’s minimum wage might seem like a local issue, the salary question underlines a continuing momentum in China toward building higher-end business and better jobs. In other words, the days of endless, cheap Chinese labor are limited.

The chart above illustrates the shrinking manufacturing wage gap between the U.S. and China, as wages increase in the U.S. at about 2% compared to 15-20% wage increases in China (Note: Those wage increases in China may obviously not continue in the long run, but are shown here to illustrate the shrinking wage gap). As recently as 2005, average manufacturing wages in the U.S. were more than 20 times higher than in China, but the U.S./China wage ratio had shrunk to only 10 times by 2010, and will likely be only 5-to-1 by 2015 at the current rate of wage increases.

Along with the shrinking wage gap, there are other factors that are starting to favor increased manufacturing production in the U.S. including greater productivity of American workers, the cost of shipping goods 8,000 miles from China with a 3-week delivery time, the logistical advantages of domestic production to avoid the challenges of coordinating design changes or addressing quality issues when production is taking place 13 times zone away, cheap industrial and commercial land in the U.S. and weak enforcement of intellectual property rights in China, among others.

As the Boston Consulting Group reported in May, "Within the next five years, the United States is expected to experience a manufacturing renaissance as the wage gap with China shrinks and certain U.S. states become some of the cheapest locations for manufacturing in the developed world. We expect net labor costs for manufacturing in China and the U.S. to converge by around 2015. As a result of the changing economics, you’re going to see a lot more products ‘Made in the USA’ in the next five years."