My deepest sympathies to the nation’s tariff fear-mongers, who keep insisting that President Trump’s levies on imports have been decimating America’s domestic manufacturing sector. This morning’s Labor Department report on the U.S. employment situation in December reveals that they’re still as pathetically wrong as ever.
Let’s start, as usual, with the impact of the President’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, which started to be imposed in April, and which allegedly have been hammering metals-using industries. This Trump decision is supposed to epitomize the folly of such protectionist policies in general, and metals tariffs in particular, since metals-using industries generate much more output than metals-producing indusries, and employ many more workers.
Yet has been the case since the onset of these levies, the data makes abundantly clear that the metals-using sectors generally have been outperforming not only the rest of manufacturing jobs-wise, but the private sector economy as a whole. Here are the numbers for April through the last three data months (keeping in mind that the November and December figures are both still preliminary):
thru October thru November thru December
entire private sector: +0.99 percent +1.13 percent +1.37 percent
overall manufacturing: + 0.99 percent +1.20 percent +1.45 percent
durable goods: +1.25 percent +1.43 percent +1.67 percent
fabricated metals products: +1.33 percent +1.30 percent +1.75 percent
non-electrical machinery: +1.66 percent +1.90 percent +2.20 percent
automotive vehicles & parts: +0.73 percent +0.58 percent +0.77 percent
household appliances: -1.25 percent -1.41 percent not available
aerospace products & parts: +4.45 percent +5.47 percent not available
Notably, even in one major sector that’s been lagging – automotive – the pace of net new job creation has quickened a bit lately. And the industry that’s genuinely taken it on the employment chin – appliances – has been dealing both with a separate set of tariffs on large household laundry machines along with a major slump in the American housing sector.
The impact of the Trump administration’s wide-ranging China tariffs is tougher to identify, partly because they only began in July, and partly because Chinese inputs are found in so many manufacturing industries. But here are the data for sectors with extensive global supply chains that often pass through China:
July thru November July thru December
entire private sector: +0.66 percent +0.90 percent
overall manufacturing: +0.66 percent +0.93 percent
chemicals: +1.54 percent +1.40 percent
non-electrical machinery: +0.66 percent +0.96 percent
computer & electronics products: +0.50 percent +0.83 percent
automotive vehicles & parts: +0.90 percent +1.08 percent
With one exception – computer and electronics products – these globalized industries have outperformed, too. And even in that lagging sector, employment has been growing faster lately.
These results still don’t prove that President Trump was right in claiming that trade wars are “easy to win.” But they sure add to the evidence that, for the United States, they’re eminently winnable. And that the President’s critics are losing.