The China toll deepens

10/23/2018

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Robert E. Scott and Zane Mokhiber | Economic Policy Institute

The China toll deepens

Summary and key findings

The United States has a massive trade deficit with China. The growth of the U.S. trade deficit with China, which has increased by more than $100 billion since the beginning of the Great Recession, almost entirely explains why manufacturing employment has not fully recovered along with the rest of the economy. And the growing trade deficit with China isn’t just a post-recession phenomenon hitting manufacturing: it has cost the U.S. millions of jobs throughout the economy since China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, a finding validated by numerous studies.

This report underscores the ongoing trade and jobs crisis by updating EPI’s research series on the jobs impact of the U.S.–China trade deficit. The most recent of these reports (Scott 2012; Kimball and Scott 2014; Scott 2017a) look at the effect of the U.S. trade deficit with China since China entered the WTO in 2001. Our model examines the job impacts of trade by subtracting the job opportunities lost to imports from those gained through exports. As with our previous analyses, we find that because imports from China have soared while exports to China have increased much less, the United States is both losing jobs in manufacturing (in electronics and high tech, apparel, textiles, and a range of heavier durable goods industries) and missing opportunities to add jobs in manufacturing (in exporting industries such as transportation equipment, agricultural products, computer and electronic parts, chemicals, machinery, and food and beverages).

The growing trade deficit with China since China entered the WTO affects different regions in different ways. Some regions are devastated by layoffs and factory closings while others are surviving but not growing the way they could be if new factories were opening and existing plants were hiring more workers. This slowdown in manufacturing job generation is also contributing to stagnating wages of typical workers and widening inequality.

Following are the key highlights of this report:

U.S. jobs lost are spread throughout the country but are concentrated in manufacturing, including in industries in which the United States has traditionally held a competitive advantage.

  • The growth of the U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2017 was responsible for the loss of 3.4 million U.S. jobs, including 1.3 million jobs lost since 2008 (the first full year of the Great Recession, which technically began at the end of 2007). Nearly three-fourths (74.4 percent) of the jobs lost between 2001 and 2017 were in manufacturing (2.5 million manufacturing jobs lost).
  • The growing trade deficit with China has cost jobs in all 50 states and in every congressional district in the United States. The 10 hardest-hit states, when looking at job loss as a share of total state employment, were New Hampshire, Oregon, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Texas. Job losses in these states ranged from 2.57 percent (in Texas) to 3.55 percent (in New Hampshire) of total state employment. The five hardest-hit states based on total jobs lost were California (562,500 jobs lost), Texas (314,000), New York (183,500), Illinois (148,200), and Pennsylvania (136,100).
  • The trade deficit in the computer and electronic parts industry grew the most: 1,209,000 jobs were lost in that industry, accounting for 36.0 percent of the 2001–2017 total jobs lost. Not surprisingly, the hardest-hit congressional districts (those ranking in the top 20 districts in terms of jobs lost as a share of all jobs in the district) included districts in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Texas, where jobs in that industry are concentrated. A district in Georgia and another in North Carolina were also especially hard hit by trade-related job displacement in a variety of manufacturing industries, including computer and electronic parts, textiles and apparel, and furniture.
  • Surging imports of steel, aluminum, and other capital-intensive products threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs in key industries such as primary metals, machinery, and fabricated metal products as well.
  • Global trade in advanced technology products—often discussed as a source of comparative advantage for the United States—is instead dominated by China.This broad category of high-end technology products includes the more advanced elements of the computer and electronic parts industry as well as other sectors such as biotechnology, life sciences, aerospace, and nuclear technology. In 2017, the United States had a $135.4 billion trade deficit in advanced technology products with China, and this deficit was responsible for 36.1 percent of the total U.S.–China goods trade deficit that year. In contrast, the United States had a $24.5 billion trade surplus in advanced technology products with the rest of the world in 2017.

Growing trade deficits are also associated with wage losses not just for manufacturing workers but for all workers economywide who don’t have a college degree.

  • Between 2001 and 2011 alone, growing trade deficits with China reduced the incomes of directly impacted workers by $37 billion per year, and in 2011 alone, growing competition with imports from China and other low wage-countries reduced the wages of all U.S. non–college graduates by a total of $180 billion. Most of that income was redistributed to corporations in the form of higher profits and to workers with college degrees at the very top of the income distribution through higher wages.

Economic Policy Institute The China toll deepens

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