We know that Donald Trump has no interest in reality, but just in case anyone might be tempted to take his boasts about bringing back manufacturing jobs seriously, it is worth a quick visit to the actual numbers. In 2016 Trump focused his campaign on a series of Midwestern swing states that had been hard hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs due to trade. He insisted that he would bring back these jobs as a result of his great skills as a deal maker. He would negotiate new trade deals so that we would get back the jobs we had lost.
Let’s take a quick look at the picture as of January 2020. I’m deliberately ending the period before the pandemic began to have an impact on the economy.
As can be seen in three of the five states, there were actually more manufacturing jobs created in the last three years of the Obama administration than in the first three years of the Trump administration. (I took January of each year as the start and endpoint.) The largest difference by far is in Michigan, where the state added 59,800 manufacturing jobs in the last three years of the Obama administration, compared to 11,600 jobs in the first three years of the Trump administration.
In the case of both Minnesota and Ohio, the last three years of the Obama administration produced more manufacturing jobs than the first three years of the Trump administration. In the case of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the gap goes the other way. Pennsylvania lost 5,800 manufacturing jobs in the last three years of the Obama administration but gained 13,100 manufacturing jobs in the first three years of the Trump administration. In Wisconsin, the performance under Trump is 15,500 new manufacturing jobs, compared to 5,000 manufacturing jobs in the last three years of the Obama administration.
Even in these two states, we are not likely to get to real world MAGA Land at this rate any time soon. Pennsylvania lost 308,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. Wisconsin lost 172,000 jobs over this period. This means that at the pre-pandemic Trump rate of manufacturing job growth it would take Pennsylvania almost 60 years to get back to the number of manufacturing jobs it had in 2000. Wisconsin, with a smaller number of lost jobs, can get back to its 2000 level by 2053 at its Trump pace of job growth.
The basic story is that Trump may have rebuilt our manufacturing base and brought back the jobs lost to trade in his head, but he did not do it in the real world.