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The steel industry

Steel must remain a core manufacturing sector for our nation. It is essential in our everyday lives and plays a critical role in our future. Steel is the key material for revitalizing our nation’s infrastructure and constructing stronger and more sustainable homes and buildings. Steel is essential in creating more fuel efficient vehicles without compromising safety and cost, and enhancing our power grid.

Production and productivity

Since 2009, the United States has seen a slow and progressive recovery from the economic crisis. Although 2015 saw domestic steel shipments down 12 percent compared to 2014, shipments were 43 percent higher in 2015 compared to 2009. There is still major headway to be made industry wide, though. Shipments in 2015 were still 18.2 percent lower than the pre-crisis average of 106 million net tons for 2000-2007.

The steel industry has been and will continue to be a cornerstone for the United States economy. In the U.S., the industry operates more than 100 steel producing and processing facilities, producing more than 87 million tons in steel shipments valued at $75 billion in 2015. The steel industry directly employs 142,000 people in the United States, and directly or indirectly supports more than one million jobs in the United States.

As the industry deals with numerous challenges from imports to economic depression, steel manufacturers in the United States have focused more than ever on productivity – ensuring our domestic industry can manufacture steel in a way that is financially sustainable. Labor productivity in this industry has seen a five-fold increase since the early 1980s, from an average of 10.1 worker hours per finished ton to an average of 1.9 worker hours per finished ton of steel in 2015. More progress is needed to ensure the American steel industry can compete – domestically, in the global marketplace and with competing materials. This productivity increase has been especially evident in the last 15 years. In 2000, one employee accounted for 831 net tons of raw steel production. In 2015, this number rose to 1,000 net tons of raw steel production, an increase per employee of 20 percent.

While increasing productivity, the North American steel industry has also made major strides in its commitment to health and safety standards. Since 2005, steel producers in the United States have achieved a reduction of 50 percent in both the total Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable injury and illness and lost workday case rates.

Applications for steel

The health of the domestic steel industry drives countless additional industries in the United States and is vital to our economy and national security. Steel has a broad range of applications in industries such as transportation, energy, defense, machinery, appliance, construction and packaging.  

In construction, steel offers superior performance, affordability and an environmentally friendly profile over competing materials. Steel is the main material used in products that deliver renewable energies such as solar, tidal and wind. The automotive sector accounts for roughly 12 percent of the overall global steel consumption. In the United States, that number rises to 27 percent.

Steel’s environmental footprint

Steel is the most recycled material in the world – more than aluminum, copper, paper, glass and plastic combined. In North America alone, more than 80 million tons of steel are recycled or exported for recycling each year. Today, 97 percent of steel byproducts can be reused and the recycling rate for steel itself is 86 percent. The steel industry, through recycling, saves the amount of energy needed to power 20 million homes for one year.

In the automotive industry, recycling rates for steel vehicles are often near or more than 100 percent, as older vehicles being recycled are often heavier than new cars, which are lighter and more fuel-efficient through the use of advanced high strength steels. Advanced high strength steel is the only material that reduces greenhouse gas emissions in all phases of an automobile’s life: manufacturing, driving and end-of-life recycling.

The steel industry is the only significant industry in the United States that reduced its total energy consumption while increasing its production from 1990 to 2012. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Sector Performance Report, the domestic steel sector is recognized as having the steepest decline of total air emissions among nine manufacturing sectors including cement, forest products, food and beverage, paint and coatings, and oil and gas.