In the 1980s, American steelmakers needed 10.1 man-hours to produce a ton of steel; now they need 1.5 man-hours (see chart below), says Joe Innace of S&P Global Platts. Most American steel is now made at super-efficient mini-mills, which use electric arc furnaces to turn scrap metal into steel. (Traditional integrated steel mills make steel from scratch, feeding iron ore and coking coal into blast furnaces.)
Some mini-mills need just 0.5 man-hours to produce a ton of steel, Innace says. Increased productivity means today's steel mills don't need as many workers. Steel industry employment peaked at 650,000 in 1953. By the start of this year, U.S. steelmakers employed just 143,000.