“I will bring jobs back from China. I will bring jobs back from Japan. I will bring jobs back from Mexico. I’m going to bring jobs back and I’ll start bringing them back very fast.”
Throughout President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, he repeatedly promised that he would bring back a host of manufacturing jobs back to the States. It’s a message that resonated with working class voters across the country, and one that ultimately helped him win the presidency in an unprecedented upset. The fall of labor-intensive commodity manufacturing in recent decades and the expansion of super-productive advanced manufacturing have left millions of working-class whites feeling abandoned, irrelevant, and angry. Trump was able to harness this anger, located primarily in the Rust Belt, to become President. Since 2000, millions of workers in this region have been laid off and lost work that payed as much as $25/hour with multiple benefits.
Trump lists on his campaign website four ways he would fix trade with China to keep jobs and factories in America.These include “declaring China a currency manipulator, ending its intellectual property violations, eliminating its illegal export subsidies and lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate to 15% to stop businesses from moving abroad. He also floated a plan to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S. in a meeting with the New York Times editorial board last month.”
While these fixes may or may not make sense in theory, bringing them back would be much more complicated. Factory jobs haven’t just disappeared because of trade deals and imports and foreign tariffs. America, over the past 20 years, has lost over 5 million manufacturing jobs. The rapid decrease in these occupations led to many believing in Trump’s notion that America really doesn’t make anything anymore. However, this just is not true. The majority (86%!) of what consumers buy are goods and services that are made in the States. Two-thirds of durable goods purchased in the United States are made here, and more than three-fourths of non-durable goods are American-made, according to a study by two San Francisco Federal Reserve economists. America is making more goods than ever before, even more than when America was still “great.” The difference now is that it doesn’t take as many workers as it once did to make them.
The reason for this decline isn’t because China, Mexico, or any other country is stealing our jobs. Its because of the rapid increase of technology and productivity. If one looked at the global manufacturing output, they would be able to see that it has been increasing on a yearly basis. However, simultaneously, the amount of jobs worldwide has been decreasing. This trend isn’t just occurring in America, either. It’s happening all over the globe, as countries are becoming more advanced and are creating technology that is effectively taking the place of potential workers:
It’s hard to envision a scenario where Trump could somehow bring back these manufacturing jobs. The sector has been increasing in productivity over years, and is now higher than it has ever been, despite the fact that there are fewer jobs. And even if more manufacturing took place in the US, it wouldn’t bring back many of these occupations, since the labor is increasingly being done by robots. According to Boston Consulting Group, 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 as technology becomes more efficient. Furthermore, back in 1980, it took about 25 jobs to create $1 million in output. Today, it only takes 5 to create the same output. The amount of bodies demanded and needed for productive work simply is not as high today as it was in the past.
This new wave of automation isn’t just affecting manufacturing jobs, either. For instance, consider the truck driving industry. According to NPR, truck driving is currently the most popular job in 29 states. Truck driving isn’t a career that is highly sought after, but one that remains available and pays well. Unlike a plethora of other jobs that have declined in recent years, truck driving has remained immune to the forces that have elbowed out different lines of work. However, this space is now in danger as well. Google, Tesla and Uber are all working on self-driving vehicles, including those that make long-haul journeys. If the truck driving industry does in fact become automated, then many great positives will come from it. From a company’s standpoint, it wouldn’t have to account for long mandatory breaks drivers need after spending hours on the road. Road safety would also improve, as up to 4,000 lives each year are lost in car accidents with trucks, must of which are due to user error.
The arrival of driverless cars won’t benefit all people, however. Just like in manufacturing, jobs will be lost, and people will suffer. In the US, up to 3.5 million drivers and 5.2 million additional personnel who work directly within the industry would be out of a job. According to another study, “the coming wave of technological breakthroughs endangers up to 47% of total employment in the US.” When looking at these facts, its clear to see that the work jobs that we have “lost” aren’t going to come back anytime soon. Instead of preaching how he plans on bringing them back to the US, Trump should really be focused on implementing some kind of system that retrains people who have been replaced by technology so that they remain ready to be employed. (Our last President recognized this, and helped pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as a potential solution, FYI).The individuals who do believe that Trump is going to bring back these “stolen” jobs are in for a very rude awakening over the next 4 years.