Donald Trump claims trade with Mexico and China is killing America’s middle class. Corporate America says that’s false.
“History shows that trade made easy, affordable and fast…always begets more trade, more jobs, more prosperity,” the founder and CEO of FedEx wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Who’s right? Take a look at what has happened to blue-collar workers.
Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. actually increased in the years after the North America Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada went into effect in 1994.
But the story changed dramatically in 2000. Since then, the U.S. has shed 5 million manufacturing jobs, a fact opponents of free trade mention often.
Over 12 million Americans still work in manufacturing
Trump and Bernie Sanders blame China for undercutting American workers with cheap labor (even Trump makes a lot of his suits and ties overseas). But there’s another big factor: technology. Robots and machines are also replacing workers. The tech trend would have happened regardless of trade.
Still, manufacturing remains a key part of the U.S. economy. Over 12.3 million Americans are employed in the industry. But it’s not the powerhouse it was.
In 1960, about one in four American workers had a job in manufacturing. Today fewer than one in 10 are employed in the sector, according to government data.
Call it the Great Shift. Workers transitioned from the fields to the factories. Now they are moving from factories to service counters and health care centers. The fastest growing jobs in America now are nurses, personal care aides, cooks, waiters, retail salespersons and operations managers.
Trump’s trade talk is ‘bluster’
Trade likely sped up the shift, but many experts say it was inevitable. It’s unlikely many manufacturing jobs will ever return, even if Trump’s walls get built.
“Trump’s talk on trade is bluster,” says economist Charles Ballard of Michigan State University. “Even if you did [what Trump says], you wouldn’t reverse the technology, which is a very big part of the picture.”