We Have the New Factory Jobs Numbers, and We’re Still Deep in a Hole

By Matthew McMullan
Oct 02 2020 |

A few days ago, we got a grim goods trade number. On Friday, we got a new jobs report: 66,000 new factory jobs in the United States created last month. That’s good! But what’s a number without context? Context is important. So let’s have some context, shall we?

Here, from only a few days ago during simpler times, we have President Donald Trump arguing with former Vice President Joe Biden during their “debate” about who saw more manufacturing jobs created during their respective terms in office. Let’s go to the tape:

Oh my bad, wrong clip. This is the one:

So, Trump claims that under his administration’s economic stewardship the American created 700,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector from January 2017 until present. O.K., so let’s look at the chart of manufacturing employment nationwide from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s all right here:  

Looks like the American economy in fact gained about 480,000 factory jobs before the coronavirus pandemic tanked employment in March 2020.

In the video above, Biden mutters something about being “the guy who brought back the automobile industry,” while Trump claims the Obama administration in which Biden served “brought back nothing. They gave up on manufacturing.”

So let’s look at the graph again! How did the Obama administration do?

From March 2010 – the absolute pit of the recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis – to January 2017, the economy created approximately 916,000 factory jobs. Divide that in half, and you get 458,000 – which is about where American factory job creation was at under Trump before COVID-19 hit.  

We at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) spent a lot of time busting President Obama’s chops during his second term over his re-election campaign promise to set in place policies that would foster the creation of 1 million manufacturing jobs. He didn’t come close to fulfilling that promise while in office (although some attribute the big gains seen during Trump’s first year in office to the Obama economy, but I digress).

To be clear: The rate of factory job creation under Trump, even when you strip out the coronavirus recession that we’re currently neck-deep in, is roughly the same steady but slow rate it was under the eight years of the Obama administration.

Put the coronavirus numbers back in, and the rate under Trump is much worse. The 66,000 factory jobs created last month puts the national manufacturing employment total at about 12.2 million – 600,000 factory jobs less in America than there were a year ago.

Here’s what AAM President Scott Paul said in response to today’s jobs number:

All is not well in the manufacturing economy, as the record monthly goods trade deficit in August showed. Overall, job growth is slowing again. While employers are adding back some jobs, half of the workers laid off during the pandemic haven’t been rehired. This includes 647,000 factory workers still out of a job.

We need a more aggressive public health response in the short term to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases, along with a stimulus measure to avoid further catastrophe, and we need bold and sustainable public investments in infrastructure to spur manufacturing demand.