Why Trump can’t do much to bring back man­ual la­bor jobs

Cecil Whig - - & - By NATALIE KITROEFF

Los An­ge­les Times

— Michael Smith is not used to stretch­ing a pay­check. As re­cently as March 2015, the 42-year-old was earn­ing nearly $100,000 a year as a district man­ager on oil fields for com­pany based in Union City, Pa. Then oil prices dropped, and his com­pany laid him off.

Smith, a fa­ther of four boys, now makes $12 an hour as an ap­pren­tice elec­tri­cian. He is not a diehard dis­ci­ple, but voted for Don­ald Trump be­cause he’s des­per­ate for some­thing new.

“Do I think Don­ald Trump is what this coun­try needs and do I think he will make it great again? No,” Smith said. “Do I think he is a step in the right di­rec­tion? Ab­so­lutely.”

It was not poor Amer­i­cans who made the dif­fer­ence in this elec­tion; it was peo­ple like Smith. Trump soared among white vot­ers who earn de­cent wages, but have seen their pay de­cline and jobs in their in­dus­tries dis­ap­pear over the last 15 years.

Some of those work­ers say they were re­spond­ing in part to Trump’s re­peated bash­ing of trade, and at the same time per­ceived Hil­lary Clin­ton as a poster child for the free-trade deals that her hus­band signed and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tried to push through Congress.

“A lot of our mem­bers equated NAFTA to Hil­lary and Bill Clin­ton,” said Don­nie Blatt, a co­or­di­na­tor with the United Steel­work­ers union in Ohio. “A lot of our mem­bers felt like they hated Hil­lary Clin­ton. They be­lieved she caused the loss of all their jobs.”

But it will be al­most im­pos­si­ble for Trump to ful­fill his prom­ise to bring back most of the as­sem­bly line gigs lost to glob­al­iza­tion, econ­o­mists say. The U.S. has moved to­ward ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing, which em­ploys highly ed­u­cated peo­ple, and plants that once re­quired man­ual la­bor are now manned by ro­bots that work faster than peo­ple and cost less. U.S. fac­to­ries are pro­duc­ing more than ever, with far fewer em­ploy­ees.

“The Democrats have no cred­i­bil­ity with th­ese peo­ple, and the trade is­sue brings it out more than any­thing,” said Dean Baker, the co-di­rec­tor of the left-lean­ing Cen­ter for Eco­nomic and Pol­icy Re­search. “Trump is mak­ing th­ese prom­ises, but they aren’t re­al­is­tic. It isn’t like he has a plan to bring the jobs back, but he was out there say­ing it.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing that trade is-

LOS AN­GE­LES

sues res­onated with some vot­ers in vast swaths of the Mid­west and South­east.

Since 2000, Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers wiped 5 mil­lion peo­ple off their pay­rolls, ac­cord­ing to the Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. Mil­lions of those jobs went to China or Mex­ico, re­search sug­gests.

For con­text, it took more than three decades for 560,000 min­ing jobs to dis­ap­pear, after reach­ing a peak of 1.2 mil­lion the early 1980s.

The shock of los­ing so many mid­dle-class jobs so quickly hit hard­est in the Rust Belt states, which were cru­cial to Trump’s vic­tory. Ohio, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia had among the steep­est cuts in as­sem­bly line jobs across the coun­try since 2000.

Cal­i­for­nia cut the most man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs of any state from 2000 to 2015, partly be­cause its work­force is so huge. More than 576,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans lost their jobs in fac­to­ries over that pe­riod.

But the big­gest losers after Cal­i­for­nia were Ohio, Michi­gan, North Carolina and Penn­syl­va­nia, which hem­or­rhaged a com­bined 1.2 mil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs. That means that about a quar­ter of the to­tal man­u­fac­tur­ing job loss in the coun­try since 2000 oc­curred in those four swing states.

Ohio and Penn­syl­va­nia voted for a Repub­li­can for the first time since at least 2004. Michi­gan’s sec­re­tary of state said on Mon­day Trump had won there.

The coun­ties in those states where Clin­ton lost the largest num­ber of vot­ers com­pared with Obama in 2012 were also the coun­ties that lost par­tic­u­larly large num­bers of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs over the last 15 years, ac­cord­ing to Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics data.

How much of the shift took place be­cause of trade is hard to tell: The job losses mostly took place dur­ing the first decade of this cen­tury, but the states did not flip to vote for a Repub­li­can un­til this year. And other is­sues were in play, in­clud­ing ten­sions over im­mi­gra­tion, race and the pres­ence of a woman on the Demo­cratic ticket.

Still, trade and its im­pact on man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs al­most cer­tainly played a role in boost­ing Trump’s prospects in the na­tion’s in­dus­trial belt.

“The real ones who are hurt (by trade) are cen­tered, not co­in­ci­den­tally, in the swing states in this elec­tion,” said Peter Navarro, an econ­o­mist from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Irvine who has been a pow­er­ful voice on Trump’s eco­nomic ad­vi­sory board.

“You go around the rim of the Mid­west ... those are the key states that have been ground zero of this prob­lem,” Navarro said.

Th­ese work­ers were not nec­es­sar­ily scrap­ing by — the av­er­age Amer­i­can with a fac­tory gig made around $64,000 in 2015, BLS data show. But in Ohio, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia, pay for man­u­fac­tur­ing em­ploy­ees has de­clined or re­mained rel­a­tively flat since 2000, after ad­just­ing for in­fla­tion, even as it inched up in the coun­try over­all.

Ryan Ger­monto said that when he hears politi­cians talk dream­ily about the econ­omy to­day, he feels be­trayed.

“Even if the pro­gres­sives want to say we are pro­gress­ing, we aren’t re­ally pro­gress­ing,” Ger­monto said.

The 32-year-old fa­ther of two used to make $55,000 in­spect­ing gear­boxes used in wind tur­bines for Eick­hoff Wind En­ergy, in Pitts­burgh. But the com­pany stopped mak­ing the gear boxes in the U.S., and Ger­monto was laid off in Novem­ber 2015.

Now he’s work­ing at a job that barely pays his bills. He makes $40,000 per year as a site man­ager, over­see­ing the house­keep­ing staff at an up­scale mall in Pitts­burgh. He pays $800 a month for health care cov­er­age that cost him less than $250 at his old job.

“I’m sick of out­sourc­ing jobs. I’m sick of the govern­ment tak­ing the easy way out,” Ger­monto said. He voted for Trump be­cause he be­lieves that the real es­tate mogul is “more for the peo­ple” than Clin­ton.

Econ­o­mists say peo­ple like Ger­monto were al­ready in trou­ble. Au­toma­tion has been steadily dec­i­mat­ing as­sem­bly line jobs, and as new plants come back to the U.S. they are in­creas­ingly staffed by ro­bots.

But trade has also dam­aged Amer­i­can fac­to­ries, some­thing work­ers no­ticed long be­fore aca­demics mea­sured it.

“Un­til a few years ago most econ­o­mists were con­vinced that in­ter­na­tional trade had only very mi­nor im­pli­ca­tions for la­bor mar­kets,” said David Dorn, an econ­o­mist who spe­cial­izes in U.S.-China trade.

“Aca­demics and pol­i­cy­mak­ers un­der­es­ti­mate the neg­a­tive side ef­fects of glob­al­iza­tion by quite a bit,” he said.

China alone could have knocked out up to 2.4 mil­lion jobs in the U.S. from 1999 to 2011, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study that Dorn cowrote.

That eco­nomic shock made peo­ple want change.

Ar­eas that were ham­mered by trade be­came more likely to vote out in­cum­bents in fa­vor of “politi­cians that were po­lit­i­cally ex­treme” to Congress be­tween 2002 and 2010, Dorn and three other econ­o­mists found in a Septem­ber study.

White-dom­i­nated re­gions opted for un­con­ven­tional con­ser­va­tives in the tea party, while places with a ma­jor­ity of blacks, His­pan­ics and Asians chose Democrats at the other ex­treme, Dorn’s study found.

Ger­monto, the for­mer gear­box in­spec­tor, said he didn’t vote on race is­sues, but they were on his mind.

“More peo­ple are hat­ing on white Amer­i­cans than any other race or any other walk of life,” he said. “I think white Amer­ica is fed up with that.”

In re­al­ity, there isn’t a politi­cian in the coun­try who could turn things around for man­ual la­bor­ers in this coun­try, econ­o­mists say. Man­u­fac­tur­ing out­put in the U.S. — the amount that we pro­duce — reached a record high this year, after tank­ing dur­ing the re­ces­sion.

But jobs have only trick­led back, and the ones that are ap­pear­ing aren’t go­ing to women and men who work with their hands — they’re go­ing to highly ed­u­cated en­gi­neers, pro­gram­mers and MBAs.

“There is a re­al­lo­ca­tion away from tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing, to­ward parts of man­u­fac­tur­ing that are more in­ten­sive in tech and in hu­man cap­i­tal,” said En­rico Moretti, an econ­o­mist at UC Berke­ley. “Au­toma­tion keeps re­duc­ing the need for blue-col­lar po­si­tions.”

Lind­say Pat­ter­son, 61, doesn’t buy Trump’s guar­an­tee to re­sus­ci­tate jobs like his. Pat­ter­son lost a $50,000 an­nual salary with ben­e­fits when the tub­ing plant he worked for in Philadel­phia shut down in Oc­to­ber 2015.

“They lost mar­ket share be­cause Chi­nese pipes were com­ing in and it was be­com­ing re­ally dif­fi­cult for them to com­pete on the price they were charg­ing,” said Pat­ter­son, who is now get­ting by on an un­em­ploy­ment check and his wife’s salary as a school­teacher.

Pat­ter­son voted for Clin­ton be­cause he says Trump can’t change what’s hap­pened to in­dus­trial Amer­ica.

“He is go­ing to start a fight with China and with all th­ese com­pa­nies to bring jobs back, but it isn’t that easy,” Pat­ter­son said.

Still, many of Pat­ter­son’s for­mer co-work­ers sided with Trump be­cause he said the right things, of­ten and loudly.

“They hear it, it sounds good, and if they don’t have any­thing to base it on, well, that was what they have been wait­ing to hear,” Pat­ter­son said.

DAVIE HINSHAW/CHARLOTTE OB­SERVER/TNS

Then-Repub­li­can vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mike Pence talks with work­ers be­fore speak­ing about trade and the econ­omy at a pri­vate event at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, N.C.

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