A Look at a Heartland Town Faced with Outsourcing

By Matthew McMullan
May 17 2016 |
The Huntington County courthouse.

The research suggests that a painful period for workers there is on the horizon.

A front page story on the Washington Post this Sunday profiled the Setsers, a family of six from Huntington, Indiana, whose chief breadwinner, father Chris, was among the workers at United Technologies Electronic Controls (UTEC) that recently discovered that the factory was packing up and moving everything to Mexico.

He wasn’t in that video of the Carrier employees in Indianapolis, but that decision affected his United Technologies-owned plant, too. Nope. In Huntington, the workers didn’t grumble; they went back to work:

But in polite-and-steady Huntington, the cafeteria stayed quiet except for the hum of the vending machines. A psychologist who had been brought in to counsel workers waited alone at her table. The company security guards eventually wandered off to eat lunch. UTEC employees sat quietly in the cafeteria and watched the clock, until finally Setser stood and motioned for others to follow. “Let’s go,” he had said, and none of his co-workers had any doubt about where he was going, because there was no other choice.

They still had their jobs. Those jobs were the thing keeping them in the shrinking 49 percent of the middle class. So with five minutes left before the end of the hour, all 250 UTEC employees returned to their places on the lines.

This story is well written and not at all an easy read. And if you live in a corner of the United States that has been largely unaffected by increased trade with countries that – for one reason or another – can undercut the American competition on price, you should read all of it.

Then you should read about some of the economic research on communities like Huntington that has recently come to light.

Studies like:

  • The one that found that American manufacturing employment fell off a cliff after the United States normalized trade relations with China in 2001;
  • The one that revealed workers in industries and regions in America most exposed to Chinese imports ended up stuck in dead-end, low-paying work and often in need of government assistance;
  • The one that found that congressional districts exposed to trade were much more likely to elect ideologically extreme representatives to Congress; or
  • The one completed by Princeton University economists, that found unlike every other age, racial and ethnic group and their counterparts in other rich countries, the death rate for middle-aged poorly educated white Americans increased between 1999 and 2014.

Trade policies have consequences, and it's the Huntingtons of America that have been left holding the short end of the stick. And if you get the shaft for long enough, you might even vote for somebody who says stuff like this but remains vague and nocommittal on purpose