There is a significant amount of concentration found in the meat industry today when looking at American agricultural sectors. The four largest packers represent approximately 80% of the overall industry revenues in the United States each year. Almost 800,000 people are currently employed throughout the country.
Chicago has long been at the center of the meat industry in the United States, with the Union Stock Yard opening to the public in 1865. This moment after the conclusion of the Civil War became one of the first times that Americans began to embrace the concept of industrialized agricultural products.
Assembly-line techniques were used in the city to process meat long before automobile workers followed the same process. By the turn of the 19th century, over 500,000 people were visiting the stockyards because they had become a tourist attraction for the city. Even the packing houses were seeing high levels of traffic because of the sheer scale that the 450-acre site provided.
Even as late as the 1950s, schools in Chicago were taking elementary students to see hog slaughters and meatpacking presentations.
Essential Chicago Meat Industry Statistics
#1. The meatpacking industry in the United States is the largest agricultural sector in the country, with sales of poultry and meat products exceeding $100 billion per year. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#2. There are roughly 500,000 people employed by the meatpacking industry in the U.S. each year. The average hourly salary for workers in the industry is roughly $12 per hour. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#3. Union representation within the meatpacking industry dropped from nearly 80% in the 1980s to less than 50% today. (PBS)
#4. The percentage of Hispanic meat processers has risen from less than 10% in 1980 to roughly 30% in 2000. (PBS)
#5. There are roughly 200 businesses in the state of Illinois which are responsible for meatpacking activities today. These organizations brought in $12 billion of revenue in 2017. (IBIS World)
#6. About 18,000 people are employed in the state of Illinois by the meat industry in some capacity. The opportunities have declined by 0.4% per year since 2013. (IBIS World)
#7. Although revenues have grown by 2.2% for the Chicago meat industry since 2013, the number of businesses active in this sector has decreased by 4.1% over the same period. (IBIS World)
#8. There are over 40,000 livestock farms in the state of Illinois helping to support the Chicago meat industry each year. Clinton and Greene Counties are the two largest agricultural sectors in the state producing food products each year. (University of Illinois)
#9. Out of the 40,000 livestock operations that are currently in the state of Illinois, 15,000 of them are cow-calf enterprises. Another 5,000 of them involve fed cattle that typically go to the Chicago meat industry for processing. (University of Illinois)
#10. Although the Chicago meat industry was built on their processing capacity for hogs, there are only 3400 operations in the state which supply animals for processing today. (University of Illinois)
#11. About half of the meat processing facilities that are active in Illinois are located in the city of Chicago. Figures from 2004 show that there were 104 processing facilities in Cook County that were providing products to consumers throughout the Midwest. (University of Illinois)
#12. DuPage County, which includes some of the suburbs of Chicago such as Wheaton and Naperville, has five active meat processing plants which provide food products to the area. (University of Illinois)
#13. The rate of injuries and illnesses in the Chicago meat industry are 2.5 times higher than they are for all industries across the United States. Severe injuries occur at a rate that is three times higher than the national average. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#14. 64% of the animals which are processed by the Chicago meat industry originate within 75 miles of their packing facility. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#15. About half of the cattle which are processed by the meat industry in the United States come from large farms or commercial farming enterprises when using the largest processing facilities in the country. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#16. The average person in the United States will eat over 70 pounds of red meat products each year and another 54 pounds of poultry products. A significant majority of these items went through the Chicago meat industry for processing before they reached the dinner table. (NBC News)
#17. Illinois, along with Texas, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, are responsible for 78% of the commercial red meat production that occurs in the United States. (Cornell University)
#18. Since the 1990s, pork production has increased by 60%. With the Chicago meat industry taking the lead, over 24,500,000,000 pounds was processed in the United States in 2015. (Cornell University)
#19. Poultry producers in the state of Illinois provide 1.4 million eggs to the market each year in addition to the animal products that they send through the Chicago meat industry. (FarmCentric)
#20. The average Illinois farmer is able to feed 156 people because of their croplands and livestock raising efforts. An additional 1.8 million pounds of milk come from the state as well. (FarmCentric)
#21. Illinois is currently ranked seventh in the United States for total agricultural sales. (FarmCentric)
Chicago Meat Industry Trends and Analysis
At the turn of the 20th century, one out of every three meat industry workers were based in Chicago. When it would take skilled workers over eight hours to dress an animal outside of the city for food, the meat industry in the city was able to do the same work in about half-an-hour. That was one of the primary reasons that it became such a tourist attraction for the area. People could not believe how fast animals were being processed into food.
The industry is a little different today. Government oversight and frequent health inspections are creating an environment where food products entering the market are typically safe. Businesses within this industry are using more automation than ever before, which puts some jobs at risk. There is also a high-level of consolidation occurring in the Chicago meat industry, creating fewer businesses for local farmers to use when processing their products.
The meat industry has long been an integral component of Chicago’s economic existence. There is nothing to suggest that this status will change in the next decade. Companies will still see 1%-2% growth during this time, even though the total number of employment opportunities may significantly decrease.
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