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China's Rising Wages and the 'Made in USA' Revival

A technician prepares a VIPturbo Modem at the SRT Wireless satellite communications manufacturing plant in Davie, Florida on Aug. 18
A technician prepares a VIPturbo Modem at the SRT Wireless satellite communications manufacturing plant in Davie, Florida on Aug. 18Photograph by Mark Elias/Bloomberg

It wasn’t long ago that China was the cheapest place on earth to make just about anything. When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, the average hourly manufacturing wage in the Yangtze River Delta was 82¢ an hour. Oil was $20 a barrel, so no matter where you were ultimately selling your Chinese-made goods, it didn’t cost much to get it there.

China’s still cheap, but it’s nowhere near the deal it was just a few years ago. Workers in the Yangtze make almost $5 an hour today, and oil costs about $85 a barrel. Suddenly the benefits of making things in China aren’t so apparent, especially if you’re selling those things to consumers in the U.S. A new survey by Boston Consulting Group found that 16 percent of American manufacturing executives say they’re already bringing production back home from China. That’s up from 13 percent a year ago. Twenty percent said they would consider doing so in the near future.