By Stan Lancey
The forest product industry directly employs approximately 950,000 men and women and supports more than twice that many derivative jobs in supplier industries and local communities. While the industry lost jobs during the Great Recession, our manufacturers have been adding jobs in recent years as the economy expands.
That’s worth noting as we celebrate the 58th anniversary of National Forest Products Week (NFPW), and we can’t forget to point out the following. Because of our employees’ dedication, commitment and innovation, our industry ranks as one of the largest manufacturing sectors in America.
Let’s take a closer look at our employees and the value they provide to the industry and the economy in producing products that play an integral part in the everyday lives of people across the country and around the world.
Worker safety has always been a key objective for the forest products industry. As part of the American Forest & Paper Association’s (AF&PA) Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 sustainability goals for 2018, the recordable incident rate among member companies declined 36.3 percent between 2006 and 2016, exceeding the goal of a 25 percent reduction by 2020.
But, any injury is unacceptable. That’s why AF&PA members continually work to develop innovative methods to improve the safety of their facilities so that workers can go home safe and sound after their shifts.
In 2016, AF&PA members assigned safety training for 100 percent of their new employees. We also provide useful and timely safety updates and invest in programs to promote the well-being of their employees and the communities where they operate.
As part of the ongoing effort to help our members reduce serious injuries and fatalities (SIF), AF&PA also convened safety workshops aimed at discussing how to identify and remediate SIF precursors; developed survey instruments for collecting SIF-related data from member companies; compiled a compendium of publicly available workplace health and safety information; and organized safety webinars.
For their commitment and hard work, forest products industry employees earned compensation of $53.2 billion in 2016 with paper industry employees earning $29.9 billion; wood products workers, $21 billion; and loggers, $2.3 billion. These earnings play an important role in supporting families and local communities which benefit from the spending and taxes of the residents employed by the forest products industry.
The industry is also known for paying family wages. Data compiled by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) indicate that earnings of paper industry employees averaged $66,900 in 2016 – 24 percent above the national average earnings of all non-farm private sector employees. Paper industry workers earned more than other private sector employees in 44 of the 46 states for which BEA data is available. In the Southeast, which is the leading U.S. region for paper production, paper industry employees earned 49 percent more than their private sector counterparts.
The forest products industry is particularly important to the economic health of rural communities. For example, more than 75 percent of all U.S. pulp and paper mills are located in counties that are more than 80 percent rural.
So when you pour a glass of milk from a carton, flip a page in your favorite magazine, wipe your nose with a tissue or sit down on a wooden chair at the dining room table, remember the employees who made these and so many more forest products possible. We recognize the value they bring to the job, particularly during National Forest Products Week. Let’s all take time to give them a round of applause.