US Manufacturing Trade
EPI Report Claims US-China Trade Deficit Cost 3.4 Million Jobs

EPI Report Claims US-China Trade Deficit Cost 3.4 Million Jobs

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute finds, "Due to the trade deficit with China 3.4 million jobs were lost between 2001 and 2015, including 1.3 million jobs lost since the first year of the Great Recession in 2008. Nearly three-fourths (74.3%) of the jobs lost between 2001 and 2015 were in manufacturing (2.6 million manufacturing jobs displaced).

On January 31, 2017, the Economic Policy Institute released a report, "Growth in U.S.–China trade deficit between 2001 and 2015 cost 3.4 million jobs," written by Robert Scott.

Scott explained that when China entered into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, "it was supposed to bring it into compliance with an enforceable, rules-based regime that would require China to open its markets to imports from the United States and other nations by reducing Chinese tariffs and addressing nontariff barriers to trade."

However, Scott wrote, "China both subsidizes and dumps massive quantities of exports. Specifically it blocks imports, pirates software and technology from foreign producers, manipulates its currency, invests in massive amounts of excess production capacity in a range of basic industries, often through state owned enterprises (SOEs) (investments that lead to dumping), and operates as a refuse lot for carbon and other industrial pollutants. China has also engaged in extensive and sustained currency manipulation over the past two decades, resulting in persistent currency misalignments."

As a result, "China’s trade-distorting practices, aided by China’s currency manipulation and misalignment, and its suppression of wages and labor rights, resulted in a flood of dumped and subsidized imports that greatly exceed the growth of U.S. exports to China."

He added, "the WTO agreement spurred foreign direct investment (FDI) in Chinese enterprises and the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing plants, which has expanded China’s manufacturing sector at the expense of the United States, thereby affecting the trade balance between the two countries. Finally, the core of the agreement failed to include any protections to maintain or improve labor or environmental standards or to prohibit currency manipulation."

These trade policies have resulted in an enormous trade deficit with China. Scott stated, "From 2001 to 2015, imports from China increased dramatically, rising from $102.3 billion in 2001 to $483.2 billion in 2015… U.S. exports to China rose at a rapid rate from 2001 to 2015, but from a much smaller base, from $19.2 billion in 2001 to $116.1 billion in 2015. As a result, China’s exports to the United States in 2015 were more than four times greater than U.S. exports to China. These trade figures make the China trade relationship the United States’ most imbalanced trade relationship by far…"

He explained, "Overall, the U.S. goods trade deficit with China rose from $83.0 billion in 2001 to $367.2 billion in 2015, an increase of $284.1 billion. Put another way, since China entered the WTO in 2001, the U.S. trade deficit with China has increased annually by $20.3 billion, or 11.2%, on average.

Between 2008 and 2015, the U.S. goods trade deficit with China increased $100.8 billion. This 37.9% increase occurred despite the collapse in world trade between 2008 and 2009 caused by the Great Recession and a decline in the U.S. trade deficit with the rest of the world of 30.2% between 2008 and 2015.

—Robert Scott, EPI

Between 2008 and 2015, the U.S. goods trade deficit with China increased $100.8 billion. This 37.9% increase occurred despite the collapse in world trade between 2008 and 2009 caused by the Great Recession and a decline in the U.S. trade deficit with the rest of the world of 30.2% between 2008 and 2015. As a result, China’s share of the overall U.S. goods trade deficit increased from 32.0% in 2008 to 48.2% in 2015." Scott notes that the figures in this paragraph derive from his analysis of USITC 2016 data.

Previously, the U. S. had a trade surplus in advanced technology products, but now we have lost that comparative advantage. Scott stated, "Global trade in advanced technology products… 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 2015, the United States had a $120.7 billion deficit in advanced technology products with China, and this deficit was responsible for 32.9% of the total U.S.–China goods trade deficit. In contrast, the United States had a $28.9 billion surplus in advanced technology products with the rest of the world in 2015."

Scott stated, "Due to the trade deficit with China 3.4 million jobs were lost between 2001 and 2015, including 1.3 million jobs lost since the first year of the Great Recession in 2008. Nearly three-fourths (74.3%) of the jobs lost between 2001 and 2015 were in manufacturing (2.6 million manufacturing jobs displaced).

After explaining how EPI calculated the loss of jobs due to the U.S.-China trade deficit, he wrote, "U.S. exports to China in 2001 supported 171,900 jobs, but U.S. imports displaced production that would have supported 1,129,600 jobs. Therefore, the $83.0 billion trade deficit in 2001 displaced 957,700 jobs in that year. Net job displacement rose to 3,077,000 jobs in 2008 and 4,401,000 jobs in 2015.

“That means that since China’s entry into the WTO in 2001 and through 2015, the increase in the U.S.–China trade deficit eliminated or displaced 3,443,300 U.S. jobs…the U.S. trade deficit with China increased by $100.8 billion (or 37.9%) between 2008 and 2015. During that period, the number of jobs displaced increased by 43.0%."

Scott states, "The growing trade deficit with China has cost jobs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and in every congressional district in the United States." The report calculates job loss by state and Congressional District, stating that "The trade deficit in the computer and electronic parts industry grew the most, and 1,238,300 jobs were lost or displaced, 36.0% of the 2001–2015 total. As a result, many of the hardest-hit congressional districts (in terms of the share of jobs lost) were in California, Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Arizona, where jobs in that industry are concentrated. Some districts in Georgia, Illinois, New York, and 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. In addition, surging imports of steel, aluminum, and other capital intensive products threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs in these key industries as well."

It was interesting to note that of the top 20 hardest-hit districts, eight were in California, four were in Texas, and there was one district each in Oregon, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, and Arizona.

The three hardest-hit congressional districts were all located in Silicon Valley in California. The 17th District lost 60,900 jobs, the 18th lost 49,500 jobs, and the 19th lost 39,400 jobs for a total loss of 149,800 jobs. His explanation for why this occurred is "Although the San Francisco Bay Area has experienced rapid growth over the past decade in software and related industries, this growth has come at the expense of direct employment in the production of computer and electronic parts."

In summarizing the lost wages from the increasing trade deficit with China, Scott stated, "U.S. workers who were directly displaced by trade with China between 2001 and 2011 lost a collective $37.0 billion in wages as a result of accepting lower-paying jobs in nontraded industries or industries that export to China assuming, conservatively, that those workers are re-employed in nontraded goods industries…"

In addition, Scott wrote, "According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey covering displaced workers (BLS 2016b), more than one-third (36.7%) of manufacturing workers displaced from January 2013 to December 2015 were still not working, including 21.7% who were not in the labor force, i.e., no longer even looking for work."

As I have written in previous articles, Scott concludes, "The rapid growth of U.S. imports of computer and electronic parts from China also represents a threat to national security because it is connected to the outsourcing of U.S. defense products, as explained by Brigadier General John Adams (2015). The outsourcing of the defense industry makes the United States vulnerable to disruption of supply chains for key missile and communications components. Outsourcing has also reduced the quality of military equipment: a congressional report found nearly 1 million counterfeit components in the supply chain for “critical” defense systems (Senate Armed Services Committee 2012). And outsourcing has eroded the capacity of the defense industrial base for cost innovation, knowledge generation, and support for domestic employment (Alliance for American Manufacturing 2016).

Foreign Direct Investment by American companies in factories in China has also played a key role in the growth of China’s manufacturing sector and "the shift of manufacturing production and jobs from the United States to China since China entered the WTO in 2001." Scott notes that "China is the largest recipient of FDI of all developing countries (Xing 2010) and is the third-largest recipient of FDI over the past three decades, trailing only the United States and the United Kingdom." He wrote, "For many years, foreign-invested enterprises (both joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries) were responsible for roughly two-thirds of China’s global trade surplus…However, due to China’s indigenous innovation policies and other measures that have pushed out foreign investors, often through forced takeovers and illegal theft of intellectual property, this share has fallen sharply to only one-third in 2015…"

 However, the most serious consequences of the U.S.-China trade deficit are:

  • The United States net international investment position (NIIP) declined from -$2.3 trillion in 2001, before China joined the WTO, to $-7.2 trillion in 2015 (BEA 2016b).
  • Each year that the United States runs a trade deficit is a year that it must borrow from abroad to finance this excess of consumption over domestic production.
  • The United States ran a trade surplus in nearly every year between 1946 and 1975, and by 1975 had become the largest net lender in the world.
  • The United States has run increasingly large trade deficits in every year since 1976, and has become the world’s largest net debtor.

In summary, Scott stated, "The U.S.–China trade relationship needs to undergo a fundamental change. Addressing unfair trade, weak labor and environmental standards in China, and ending currency manipulation and misalignment should be our top trade and economic priorities with China. It is time for the United States to respond to the growing chorus of calls from economists, workers, businesses, and Congress (Scott 2014b) and take action to stop unfair trade and illegal currency manipulation by China and other countries."

According to my calculations, our trade deficit with China and other countries since 1994 when NAFTA went into effect has added up to nearly $11 trillion. President Trump has set the goal of reducing the trade deficit. I say we need to eliminate the trade deficit by implementing the smart trade policies recommended by the Coalition for a Prosperous America that address all of the trade misalignment issues mentioned in the EPI report.  

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