The Jobs That Weren’t Saved

Source: Sean Gregory, Time, May 18, 2017

…. If Trump’s Carrier deal was a reminder of how the bully pulpit could be used to make the private sector bend, Rexnord’s closure shows its limits–and offers a lesson in the challenges of reversing a global economic trend decades in the making. …. Some 19.5 million Americans held manufacturing jobs in 1979, an all-time high. By 1983, the figure was already down to about 16.7 million. By 2024, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 7.1% of Americans will work in manufacturing.
The reasons are many, but the prime culprits are globalization and automation. In 1991, China accounted for 2.3% of the world’s manufacturing exports. In 2001, the country joined the World Trade Organization, and by 2013, China’s share of global exports was 18.8%, according to a 2016 study in the Annual Review of Economics. Countries such as Mexico and the Philippines have also increased their exports. Labor in these markets tends to be substantially cheaper than in the U.S., and trade deals like NAFTA make it easy for American companies to produce goods in far-flung locales. To economists, however, America’s shrinking manufacturing jobs have less to do with free trade than with robots. ….