A primary election swept through Indiana this week. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both won comfortably with some version of a promise to “bring back jobs and manufacturing to America.”
Midwestern voters clinging to this hope need to steel themselves for a letdown. Here’s why:
No matter how you measure it, 2015 was the record year for manufacturing production in the U.S. Right now, manufacturing in the Midwest and across the nation is at record levels. There is no ambiguity on this. Inflation-adjusted dollars are the best measure, but by any available metric, we are at record manufacturing production. We’re just doing it with far fewer workers.
The Midwest (Great Lakes Census Region) has lost 2.5 million manufacturing jobs since our peak year of factory employment back in 1969. The U.S. has lost 7.5 million manufacturing jobs since 1977, when manufacturing employment peaked nationwide.
These are facts deviously hidden in every public library in the country and on the Internet, accessible only via the 550 million smartphones and computers in use in America.
Did NAFTA cause these job losses? Well, NAFTA was implemented in 1994, so if Sanders and Trump are to be believed, American firms must have anticipated NAFTA by some 20 years (so much for all that short-term thinking on Wall Street). Moreover, in the 45 years since peak manufacturing employment, the Midwest has created more than 6.1 million nonmanufacturing jobs and the U.S. has created roughly 75 million jobs.
To be sure, our trade deficits have cost us manufacturing jobs. The high-end estimates are that today we have 1.5 million fewer manufacturing jobs across the nation because of foreign trade. All of the other 6 million or so lost manufacturing jobs are due to mechanization, better technology and better production practices. Today, the typical factory worker makes twice as much “stuff” in an hour as he or she did in 1977.
For every manufacturing job lost to trade, nearly nine have been lost to machines. But trade also creates jobs. We have 7 million more transportation and logistics jobs alone, likely attributable to trade growth since the 1970s.
But that is sophisticated analysis, and this is a column about Sanders and Trump, so I’d better stop there.
Quite simply, for every manufacturing job lost since the 1970s, we have created 10 jobs elsewhere. And for every job lost to trade we have created 100 more jobs elsewhere.
This isn’t based on fancy econometric modeling or theory. It is simple data and middle-school algebra. Every campaign knows it well, and every voter should.
The “bring jobs back” promise is simply a lie. It isn’t blue-collar workers in Juarez or Beijing who have stolen factory jobs. Folks with master’s degrees in robotics working in Palo Alto, Calif., have taken those jobs. The only way to get those jobs back would be to adopt Sanders’ energy policies, which would leave many places without electricity.
There may be noneconomic reasons to support these candidates (a longing for a Syria invasion, perhaps, or for heat-free Tuesdays in February). But Midwest voters looking for a return to the 1960s factory scene richly deserve the bitter and lasting disappointment that awaits them.
Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.