January 27, 2017 at 11:42 am #26602VitalogyParticipant
The Rust Belt epicenter of the Trump electoral map says a lot about the emotional origins of his appeal, but so do the facts of employment and productivity in U.S. manufacturing industries. The collapse of labor-intensive commodity manufacturing in recent decades and the expansion in this decade of super-productive advanced manufacturing have left millions of working-class white people feeling abandoned, irrelevant, and angry.
To see this, one has only to look at the stark trend lines of the production data, which show a massive 30-year decline of employment beginning in 1980. That trend led to the liquidation of more than a third of U.S. manufacturing positions. Employment in the sector plunged from 18.9 million jobs to 12.2 million.
Much of the dislocation was concentrated in Midwestern and other Rust Belt states, where entire communities were devastated by the loss of production work. This clearly visited widespread dislocation on blue-collar workers in manufacturing-oriented metropolitan areas. Since 2000 alone, millions of workers have lost manufacturing jobs paying $25 per hour plus health and retirement benefits. Often the only alternatives were service-sector jobs without benefits, paying $12 an hour.
One result has been a sharp increase in political polarization in affected congressional districts, as MIT economist David Autor and his coauthors demonstrated this fall in a study of locations exposed to low-cost Chinese imports. In those communities, the loss of manufacturing jobs led to political polarization, which last week led to the election of Donald Trump.
Manufacturing employment has in fact ticked up since 2010, reflecting the post-crisis auto boom and the relative strength of the nation’s advanced manufacturing industries. But that hasn’t mollified angry displaced workers. While it’s encouraging for American competitiveness and some local clusters, the new growth has been far too little, far too late to ease the distress that surely contributed to Trump’s turnout in many manufacturing communities.
It bears noting that the nature of the new manufacturing growth may only be deepening the political problem of manufacturing. Trump promises to “bring back” millions of manufacturing jobs for dispossessed workers by modifying the terms of trade: by renegotiating NAFTA, rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and slapping China with tariffs. But the fact that the U.S. manufacturing sector has been succeeding by many measures in recent years makes Trump’s promises seem like false dreams.
In fact, the total inflation-adjusted output of the U.S. manufacturing sector is now higher than it has ever been. That’s true even as the sector’s employment is growing only slowly, and remains near the lowest it’s been. These diverging lines—which reflect improved productivity—highlight a huge problem with Trump’s promises to help workers by reshoring millions of manufacturing jobs. America is already producing a lot. And in any event, the return of more manufacturing won’t bring back many jobs, because the labor is increasingly being done by robots.
Boston Consulting Group reports that it costs barely $8 an hour to use a robot for spot welding in the auto industry, compared to $25 for a worker—and the gap is only going to widen. More generally, the “job intensity” of America’s manufacturing industries—and especially its best-paying advanced ones—is only going to decline. In 1980 it took 25 jobs to generate $1 million in manufacturing output in the U.S. Today it takes five jobs.
Read that again: In 1980 it took 25 jobs to generate $1 million in manufacturing output in the U.S. Today it takes five jobs.
It will be virtually impossible for Trump not to fail these unskilled workers. Question is, how long will it take them to realize this?January 27, 2017 at 11:59 am #26604AndrewParticipant
They may NEVER realize it. How many times have a lot of these same people been fooled by Republican promises to cut spending and cut the federal deficit? Then after you elect them, they do exactly the opposite. Rinse – repeat! A lot of the voters are pretty slow to catch on – and may never catch on. They’ll fall for the “blame someone else” game instead. Blame the immigrants!
They Took Our Jobs!January 27, 2017 at 2:39 pm #26614proud2baconservativeSpectator
Like the black voting block whose lot never improves?January 27, 2017 at 3:22 pm #26616AndrewParticipant
The Affordable Care Act provided insurance to millions of black Americans. The new regime wants to take it away – but hey, they’re going to make things better for black Americans right? At least the ones who don’t die due to lack of health care, I guess…January 27, 2017 at 4:38 pm #26623Andy BrownParticipant
Not only are those jobs not coming back, the country is going to lose more jobs in all sectors if drumpf gets what he wants. Here’s just an example of how that will happen:January 27, 2017 at 5:36 pm #26627LurkingGrendelParticipant
Wait, manufacturing is not returning?
Does Donald Trump know this? Didn’t he claim otherwise?
Gosh, that sure seems like it might be an issue of some kind to a number of voters.
Spoiler: They’ll blame it on someone else. Again.
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