At this stage, despite what you read in the Mainstream Media, it would be genuinely newsy to report that official U.S. government data were indeed showing any significant damage to domestic manufacturing from the President Trump’s tariffs. Figures showing no significant damage at all from either the levies on steel and aluminum, or on products from China? They’ve become old hat, and this morning’s Labor Department report on the job market for January was no exception.
As of this January data, we now have ten months’ worth of statistics shedding lots of light on whether the metals tariffs have harmed the country’s metals-using industries. As you’ll recall, a main argument against the metals tariffs held that because the metals-using sectors were much larger, even if the levies helped steel and aluminum makers, they’d become an exercise in cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face. For the number of workers and factories hurt by higher costs for a key material would far outnumber those helped by more expensive steel and aluminum.
Nonetheless, the January jobs report shows once again that nothing of the kind is happening. Indeed, as the table below makes clear, most of the country’s main metals-using manufacturing industries keep outperforming the rest of manufacturing. And some are creating jobs at a faster pace than the private sector overall.
And the laggards? Automotive is unmistakably gaining momentum, and household appliances are still experiencing the effects not only of metals tariffs, but of narrower tariffs on household laundry machines, and of a slumping housing sector.
Old thru Dec. New thru Dec. Thru Jan.
entire private sector: +1.37 percent +1.36 percent +1.60 percent
overall manufacturing: +1.45 percent +1.39 percent +1.49 percent
durable goods: +1.67 percent +1.72 percent +1.97 percent
fabricated metals products: +1.75 percent +1.57 percent +1.78 percent
non-electrical machinery: +2.20 percent +2.33 percent +2.57 percent
automotive vehicles & parts: +0.77 percent +1.07 percent +1.15 percent
household appliances: not available -2.21 percent not available
aerospace products & parts: not available +5.51 percent not available
But maybe the story is different for the China tariffs? Here the picture is fuzzier, both because the first tranche has only been in place since early July, and because the jobs data doesn’t match up that well with the categories of products tariff-ed in that first group (except for farm machinery and equipment). In addition, most of these categories are too narrow to show up in the Labor Department interactive data bases without a one-month lag. But the numbers below, which represent major manufacturing sectors that contain the tariff-ed goods, don’t show much tariff-related damage on the employment front since (and including) July.
As has been the case during this period, some industries have outperformed; others have under-performed. The resulting takeaway? Lots of factors other than China tariffs are affecting payrolls in these manufacturing segments.
overall manufacturing +0.80 percent +0.91 percent
aircraft engines and engine parts: +0.58 percent not available
industrial heating equipment: +1.12 percent not available
oil and gas drilling platform parts: +2.71 percent not available
farm machinery and equipment: +0.20 percent not available
ball bearings: +1.05 percent not available
But although the coverage of the Trump tariffs has stubbornly remained an exercise in gloom-mongering in the face of increasingly overwhelming evidence (here’s just one recent leading example), one reason for hope can be identified. Maybe the gulf between the trade reporting and the trade facts simply results from inherent argumentativeness and contrarianism – the kind that’s often seen in teenagers. If I’m right, the minute the tariff data becomes bad, the Mainstream Media will start serving up anecdotes about plucky exceptions to the rule.