Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Yes, there are serious social ills tied to factory job loss.

A story in the Washington Post suggests President Trump is being presented with bogus information on the negative social impacts of a weakened manufacturing sector – and that this info has been used to shape the president’s opinions on international trade.

This revelation suggests that socioeconomic arguments for reconsidering U.S. trade policy are wrong. All the little blurbs in the documents revealed by the Post were citation-free, the critics note. So they’re all obviously untrue, right?


Well, I’m not gonna go through every one of them. But: While this story is a bad look for those in the administration pushing the president to stick to his trade promises, the critics should be careful in their glee not to ignore the mountain of credible research that reaches similar conclusions.   

Do you think that there’s no correlation between the decline of U.S. manufacturing and a rise in social ills? Okay, that’s cool, go crazy on Twitter. But then pump your brakes:

One study found that areas and industries targeted by import competition caused “high unemployment, lower labor force participation, and reduced wages” for affected workers.  

A follow-up found trade shocks negatively affect the marriage-market value of trade-targeted manufacturing workers by “diminishing their relative earnings … reducing their physical availability in trade-impacted labor markets, and increasing their participation in risky and damaging behaviors.” A bonus finding? Reduced fertility rates.

Another, from academics at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Yale University, found that areas exposed to trade liberalization exhibit higher rates of suicide and related causes of death.

And other widely cited research, by Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University, suggest the rising “deaths of despair” among the white working class “are primarily the result of a 40-year stagnation of median real wages and a long-term decline in the number of well-paying jobs for those without a bachelor’s degree.” Case and Deaton argue:

“Opioids are like guns handed out in a suicide ward; they have certainly made the total epidemic much worse, but they are not the cause of the underlying depression.”

The underlying depression was caused in part by the drop-off in manufacturing employment in many parts of the country, that was in turn caused by trade liberalization.

These are all serious social problems that shouldn’t be discarded because you’re predisposed to the idea that everything the Trump administration spits out is a disaster.

It's unfortunate that the Post article failed to include them to provide some context. It would appear some inside the White House want to see Peter Navarro, the trade adviser who authored those documents, lose his standing -- which is why a few of his substandard slides were leaked in the first place. Navarro certainly didn't do himself any favors if this was the bulk of a presentation on the consequences of American factory job loss -- even if some today have pointed out he actually has a point.  

But you know what's really unfortunate? Left in the dust of all of this, the Trump administration hasn’t done very much to follow through on those aforementioned trade promises, like completing the Section 232 investigation into steel imports. Right now, those American workers are being told to wait until Washington takes a pass at tax reform.