Trump promised to protect American jobs, but instead he started and lost a trade war that pushed the manufacturing industry into a recession and caused thousands of American job losses, including in Michigan’s steel industry. Now, Michigan’s manufacturing sector employs 55,100 fewer workers than it did when Trump took office, including tens of thousands of auto jobs.
Reuters: Trump steel tariffs bring job losses to swing state Michigan
By Rajesh Kumar Singh
CHICAGO (Reuters) - President Donald Trump promised a new dawn for the struggling U.S. steel industry in 2016, and the lure of new jobs in Midwestern states including Michigan helped him eke out a surprise election win.
Four years later, Great Lakes Works - once among the state’s largest steel plants - has shut down steelmaking operations and put 1,250 workers out of a job. A year before the June layoffs, plant owner United States Steel Corp called off a plan to invest $600 million in upgrades amid deteriorating market conditions.
Trump’s strategy centered on shielding U.S. steel mills from foreign competition with a 25% tariff imposed in March 2018. He also promised to boost steel demand through major investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
But higher steel prices resulting from the tariffs dented demand from the Michigan-based U.S. auto industry and other steel consumers. And the Trump administration has never followed through on an infrastructure plan.
Nationally, the steel industry has been shedding jobs for the past year - since before the wider economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic - and now employs 1,900 fewer workers than it did when Trump took office, according to U.S. Labor Department data. (For a graphic on steel jobs, click tmsnrt.rs/2SRIEaF)
While the tariffs failed to boost overall steel employment, economists say they created higher costs for major steel consumers - killing jobs at companies including Detroit-based automakers General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co. Nationally, steel and aluminum tariffs resulted in at least 75,000 job losses in metal-using industries by the end of last year, according to an analysis by Lydia Cox, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Harvard University, and Kadee Russ, an economics professor at the University of California, Davis. In all, they estimated, the trade war had caused a net loss of 175,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs by mid-2019.
In Michigan, steelmakers have served layoff notices to nearly 2,000 workers since the tariff took effect, according to a Reuters analysis of the notices steel companies filed with the state. The state’s primary metals manufacturing industry, which includes iron and steel mills, employed about 7,300 fewer workers in August than in March 2018, when Trump announced metal tariffs, according to data from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
The steel-industry setbacks account for just a fraction of the job losses in Michigan’s manufacturing sector - which now employs 55,100 fewer workers than it did when Trump took office in January 2017, U.S. Labor Department data shows. The state’s automotive industry accounted for 35% of the manufacturing job losses, according to the St. Louis Fed.
Trump made similar 2016 campaign promises to revive the ailing coal industry by rolling back environmental regulations. But that industry’s employment has dropped 9% since 2016, to about 46,000, as 66 coal plants - nearly a fifth of the U.S. total - have closed. The economic losses come despite the administration’s moves to ease restrictions including limits on carbon emissions and dumping coal waste into streams.
Companies further down the auto supply chain have also felt the impact of Trump’s trade policy.
Jeff Aznavorian, head of Michigan-based Clips & Clamps Industries, buys steel from U.S. mills to make metal and tool parts for Japanese and Detroit-based automakers. He said his company has lost contracts worth up to $3.6 million in the past two years. Competitors making parts in Canada and Mexico now have an advantage, he said, because steel costs have been lower in those countries.
Aznavorian said he may move some of his business overseas.
“I need to be in a place where I can buy raw material at a competitive price,” he said.