Politics

Swing State Voters Grow Impatient for Manufacturing Jobs

Poll reveals frustration with Trump over stalled agenda, but data suggest slide has stabilized

Voters in three key swing states President Donald Trump flipped from blue to red last year are growing impatient for him to deliver on his promise to reverse a long slide in manufacturing jobs.

On the campaign trail, Trump often promised that manufacturing jobs would come “pouring back” into the United States.

But a Marist poll released Monday indicates that voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are dissatisfied with progress on manufacturing jobs. Asked if Trump is “winning” or “losing” on manufacturing jobs, more voters in all three states said “losing.” The numbers were 47 percent to 36 percent in Michigan, 51 percent to 36 percent in Pennsylvania, and 48 percent to 37 percent in Wisconsin.

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The poll was overall brutal for Trump: A majority in all three states disapprove of his job performance.

“For residents of these three critical electoral states, the reaction to the first round of the Trump presidency is decidedly negative,” Marist College Institute for Public Opinion Director Lee Miringoff said in a prepared statement. “Residents are clearly dissatisfied in how candidate Trump transitioned into President Trump.”

The negativity contrasts with Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggesting that manufacturing employment at least has stabilized.

Preliminary figures for July show 12.425 million manufacturing employees, up 0.5 percent since January. Manufacturing jobs also are up 0.5 percent in Wisconsin. Employment in the sector has been flat in Michigan and Pennsylvania. For Pennsylvania, flat represents an improvement. The state experienced a month-over-month job loss in the sector in 19 out of 20 months from May 2015 — when the state had 569,900 manufacturing employees — until January of this year.

On the one hand, it probably is unrealistic to expect immediate results on the economy from any president. The stock market has rallied since the election on investors’ expectations of tax cuts, and consumer confidence is up in surveys. Trump also has used the power of the pen to roll back some business regulations.

But it takes time to implement most policy changes. Congress has not yet even taken up tax reform, let alone passed it. Even if Trump does sign tax cuts into law, it will take time for the effects to work their way through the economy. The president has begun reviews of trade policies and has started renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But those efforts, too, are in their early stages.

“Candidate Trump promised big results, and he promised them quickly. I do think it is fair to hold him to his own words.”

Still, economic policy analyst Alan Tonelson noted that Trump himself helped set high expectations.

“Candidate Trump promised big results, and he promised them quickly,” he said. “I do think it is fair to hold him to his own words.”

Tonelson, founder of the RealityChek blog on the economy, said America added 16,000 manufacturing jobs in July. That was the best month since February, when the economy created 22,000 jobs in the sector. And he noted that the government revised its June figures upward by 11,000 jobs.

The 12 months from July 2016 to last month saw a 66,000-job increase in the manufacturing sector. After losing 2.293 million manufacturing jobs from the end of 2007 through early 2010, the economy has added back 972,000 jobs in the troubled sector. That is slower than the increase in all private-sector jobs but headed in the right direction, Tonelson said.

And the new jobs have done little to boost incomes. Adjusted for inflation, manufacturing wages in the United States have risen only 1.59 percent since June 2009, compared with a 4.56 percent increase in all non-farm, private-sector jobs.

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“One of the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm in the so-called Rust Belt states … is [that] wages have done terribly,” said Tonelson.

The wage stagnation has persisted despite a declining unemployment rate. Tonelson said he believes a major reason for this is that manufacturers are not confined to the U.S. labor pool. They can open plants in dozens of low-wage countries. In that environment, he said, it is not even necessary for companies to make overt threats to discourage employee demands for pay raises.

Ron Hira, a Howard University professor and research associate at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told LifeZette that the flat wages are one of the biggest economy mysteries.

“It’s a mystery we could solve,” he said, “but one that no one has the inclination to solve.”

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