President Joe Biden frequently speaks of a significant increase in manufacturing jobs under his leadership.
It’s a message designed to play well in the industrial Midwest, where states like Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are running a mix of competitive Senate and gubernatorial races in the US elections. mid-term. Biden is also seeking to present his record as superior to that of his presidential predecessor, Donald Trump.
“Under Trump’s watch, American-made has been hollowed out. On my watch, ‘Made in America’ isn’t just a slogan, it’s a reality,” Biden said in remarks Oct. 24 at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
Three days later, Biden traveled to Syracuse, NY, to highlight Micron’s plans to invest in microchip manufacturing. “This country has lost over 180,000 manufacturing jobs under the last guy who had that job,” Biden said at an event there. “We created 700,000 manufacturing jobs on my watch, adding manufacturing jobs at a faster rate than in 40 years.”
On the jobs stats, Biden is numerically correct. However, experts say he should exercise more caution on his victory lap – this comparison between Trump and Biden is murkier than the president suggests.
How Biden’s Policies Helped Boost Manufacturing Jobs
We asked the White House for evidence to support the idea that Biden has been exceptionally successful in creating manufacturing jobs. Officials pointed to data showing that it took 30 months – from April 2020 to September 2022 – for manufacturing jobs to return to their pre-pandemic recession peak. It may seem like a long time, but after the recessions that hit in 1990, 2001 and 2007, manufacturing jobs never even rebounded to their previous level after 100 months.
The White House also highlighted two bipartisan bills Biden signed in his first two years in office — an infrastructure measure and another designed to bolster chip manufacturing and scientific research. And he touted the Democrat-only passage of the Cut Inflation Act, which offers incentives to buy clean energy technology.
President Joe Biden speaks with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger during the grand opening of a new Intel semiconductor manufacturing facility in New Albany, Ohio, September 9, 2022. (AP)
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, gives Biden some credit for the manufacturing job gains.
Biden has created “a climate for factory investments that we haven’t seen in generations,” including investments in infrastructure, clean energy manufacturing and semiconductors, Paul told PolitiFact. It’s “already paying dividends. You can see it in the ubiquitous factory announcements almost every week.”
Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, agreed that the gain of about 700,000 manufacturing jobs since the trough of the pandemic era has been unusually fast. He said that was made possible by certain things a president can control, including federal pandemic relief programs for businesses, the unemployed and Americans who received stimulus checks. Collectively, these policies kept consumer demand for manufactured goods high, rather than collapsing.
But the pandemic relief bills began under Trump, as did the numerical increase in manufacturing jobs.
“Recovery trends are evident under the Trump and Biden administrations,” Burtless said. “We can quibble whether the trends are a bit stronger in the Biden administration, but certainly the recovery of American industry was already evident in the Trump administration.”
Other factors encouraged the recovery of manufacturing jobs and were clearly beyond Biden’s control. These include disruptions to international trade caused by the pandemic.
“U.S. manufacturers may have faced less foreign competition than they would have faced without the pandemic, giving them reason to boost employment,” Burtless said.
Ultimately, the Biden administration’s triumphant policies and rhetoric on fabrication are nothing new, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum. “A lot of presidents have said similar things about their predecessor,” he said. “We have already seen all these (political) levers pulled.”
Manufacturing jobs remain well below their all-time highs
One area Biden’s message doesn’t address: Recent job gains in manufacturing leave employment well below all-time highs.
Since peaking in 1979, the number of manufacturing jobs has fallen by just over a third, even as the total number of workers available across all U.S. industries has risen 57% over the last decade. same period.
Experts say the main factors behind declining employment in US manufacturing are automation and globalization.
“There is incredible automation in manufacturing,” said Duke University economist Allan Collard-Wexler. “The only manufacturing sector to consistently build plants with more than 2,500 workers in the United States over the past 30 years are meatpacking plants, an industry where irregular patterns in animal biology make automation difficult. .”
Automation has produced huge efficiency gains, accumulated over several decades. Although manufacturing employment has fallen by a third since 1979, industrial production in the manufacturing sector has more than doubled.
As for globalization, “companies have offshored some of their production,” said Teresa Fort, associate professor of business administration at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. In addition, she added, “foreign companies in low-wage countries can produce certain goods more cheaply.”
Can the United States restore manufacturing employment to its former levels?
Manufacturing jobs attract politicians in part because they historically pay better than many other types of jobs, especially for people with moderate education.
Experts said Biden’s policies, including support for chip manufacturing, could have a positive impact. Fort said the move to reduce or eliminate tariffs on inputs that drive up costs for U.S. manufacturing companies could also help.
Yet even if Biden’s policies continue to produce manufacturing job gains in the years to come, experts aren’t optimistic that US manufacturing will return to its glory days.
“We had this recurring mantra to promote American manufacturing, but the reality is that if you go back to the 1950s or 1960s, the United States was essentially a global manufacturing colossus straddling a world devastated by World War II,” said Holtz-Eakin. . This is not the case today, far from it.
The extent of a comeback of American industry, Fort said, will depend on the ability of American companies to compete with manufacturing sectors in other countries.
Meanwhile, not everyone is convinced that the manufacturing sector deserves the intense attention given to it by Biden or his predecessors.
“What’s So Special About Manufacturing Jobs?” said Holtz-Eakin. “We’re good at inventing things. When you have higher value items, you get rid of lower value items.”