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There’s no question that President Trump has compiled a solid record when it comes to boosting American manufacturing employment, and the numbers look especially good compared with that of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Wages, though? They remain another story entirely, and keep raising the question of how convincingly during his reelection campaign the President will be able to portray himself as a godsend to U.S. industry’s workers.

According to the most valid comparison that can be made to date, during the 29 months since Mr. Trump settled into the Oval Office (February, 2017), overall manufacturing employment and blue-collar manufacturing employment are both up considerably faster than during the last 29 months of the Obama administration. Here are the specific percentage gains for the manufacturing sector overall, and for industry’s non-supervisory and production workers – often informally dubbed “blue-collar workers”:

                                                Last 29 Obama months        First 29 Trump months

Manufacturing:                            +1.31 percent                        +3.86 percent

Blue-collar manufacturing:         +0.92 percent                         +3.40 percent

But the average hourly wage figures adjusted for inflation actually flip these results on their head:

                                              Last 29 Obama months          First 29 Trump months

Manufacturing:                           +3.05 percent                           -0.09 percent

Blue-collar manufacturing:         +3.22 percent                          +2.31 percent

It’s true that manufacturing’s blue-collar workers during the Trump era so far have been faring far better than their supervisors (who remain better paid in absolute terms). But the price-adjusted paychecks are growing significantly more slowly than they were during the final Obama years.

Of course, this politics-centric post on manufacturing wouldn’t be complete without discussing how President Trump’s tariffs have affected the picture. And here the script is arguably flipped once again to some extent, at least during the Trump years alone. The table below shows the average monthly jobs gains recorded for manufacturing and blue-collar manufacturing before the first metals tariffs were imposed (March, 2018) and after. Since the time frames differ somewhat, I thought the monthly averages would illustrate the trends more clearly.

                                                   Pre-tariffs                                  Post-tariffs

Manufacturing:                            17.38K                                       15.07K

Blue-collar manufacturing:         11.54K                                           8.6K

After the tariffs, the pace of manufacturing employment increases slowed somewhat, but it slowed much faster for blue-collar manufacturing workers.

Now for the wages results, presented as the average monthly changes in absolute (dollars and cents) terms:

                                               Pre-tariffs                                     Post-tariffs

Manufacturing                        -3 cents                                         +2 cents

Blue-collar manufacturing    +8 cents                                          +5 cents

In sum, after-inflation hourly pay rose slightly after the trade curbs came on after having fallen beforehand. Real wages for blue-collar manufacturing workers rose during both periods, but more slowly after the tariffs.

These results indicate that the President can make a decent case that his administration, and even his tariffs, have helped manufacturing workers on balance. But on the pay front in particular, the story gets complicated – and the kind of rhetorical precision Mr. Trump will need to display to date in order to tout these achievements credibly doesn’t seem to be one of his strong suits.