Donald Trump failed to remake Michigan economy as promised in 2016
President Donald Trump ran for election in 2016 on a promise to restore and protect manufacturing jobs across the U.S. and nowhere did he make that guarantee more fervently than in Michigan, where he said he’d take bold action if necessary to remake the state’s predominant auto industry.
Four years later, however, there is not much doubt that he and his administration have failed to take significant steps to make Michigan – as he said at a rally in Sterling Heights the weekend before the 2016 election – “the manufacturing hub of the world once again.”
Even before a recession spurred by COVID-19 took hold this year, it was clear that earlier job and wage gains seen in Michigan were slowing, despite the president’s continued claims that he had helped create “the best economy ever seen.” Since then, it’s gotten far, far worse with some 333,000 fewer people working in the state in July compared with a year ago and the unemployment rate 4.6 percentage points higher despite the recovery being well underway. On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. announced it would move to eliminate some 1,400 salaried employees “to better align” with its future, though it wasn’t immediately known how many are from Michigan.
The administration’s handling – or mishandling, as many of the president’s critics believe – of the pandemic may be the most important challenge he faces in his reelection bid. But his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and the Democrats are already trying to use the slowdown in manufacturing against him, while Trump is hitting Biden for his vote as a senator more than a quarter century ago for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which many believe caused the state to lose jobs, though Biden had supported reworking the deal.
There’s nothing unusual about inflamed political rhetoric. But Trump’s 2016 argument for winning in the industrial Midwest was almost entirely about reversing what he described as decades of bad trade agreements overnight and his ability to force new deals on trading partners that would revitalize manufacturing, a broad sector of the economy that covers making everything from cars and trucks to boats, chemicals, paper products, furniture, aerospace equipment and more.
Now, with Trump running for reelection, that record is on the line, especially with Biden running on a labor-friendly message and a claim he can help create 1 million new auto or auto-related jobs by hastening already emerging growth in electric and electric-hybrid vehicles.
Trump can certainly point to a strong, if volatile, stock market that had gained 45% as of Sept. 1. But that’s no better than on par with the gains seen during President Barack Obama’s second term in office. Meanwhile:
“(With Trump) it’s pretty much just been a continuation of the same economic atmosphere we had under the Obama administration,” said Sean Crawford, a 38-year-old materials driver at Flint Truck Assembly who has worked for General Motors since 2008 and who discounts Trump’s talk of helping workers as “symbolic window-dressing.” In recent years, he has seen GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant shuttered, final production of the Blazer moved to Mexico and some functions at other plants outsourced to third-party vendors. “I’m not saying Trump specifically is responsible but his policies haven’t been friendly toward labor.”
That’s not to say Trump hasn’t had some victories.
As promised, his administration renegotiated NAFTA, though Democrats in Congress had a strong hand in the final product, and it is far from clear just how large an effect the changes made in requiring more auto content produced by workers making above $16 an hour – which should shift some work away from Mexico and back into the U.S. – will have for U.S. autoworkers in the years to come.
But a large percentage of vehicles sold in the U.S. still clearly come from, or have content originating from, outside the country. A look piled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration each year indicates that among the Detroit-based automakers, General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler (or FCA), the average percentage of U.S.-Canadian content in thei…
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