- American manufacturers shed 12,000 jobs at the end of 2019.
- It was the latest sign of struggle in a sector that has slumped to its weakest point since the financial crisis.
- Trump has long promised to revive American factories. But tariff disputes have exacerbated a broader slowdown in manufacturing activity.
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American manufacturers shed thousands of jobs at the end of 2019, just the latest sign of struggle in a sector that has slumped to its weakest point since the financial crisis.
Roughly 12,000 factory jobs were lost in December, the Commerce Department said in its latest employment report Friday. That brought net gains for the year to 46,000 jobs, far below the increase of more than 250,000 in 2018. Payrolls in the sector were inflated in November as workers returned from a six-week strike at General Motors.
Trump has long pledged to give new life to US manufacturing through fairer trade deals, but the sector has shown few signs of recovery after slipping into a mild recession last year.
Factories received an unexpected boost in 2017 as the economy expanded at a faster pace and business confidence rose. The rebound proved to be short-lived, however, as a tit-for-tat trade dispute between the Trump administration and China exacerbated a broader cooldown in factory activity across the globe.
The two sides reached an interim agreement to defuse tensions last fall, but producers have continued to struggle in the face of higher prices and uncertainty. In a new study released this month, Federal Reserve economists concluded that tariffs failed to lift manufacturing activity and instead weighed it down.
“We find that the tariff increases enacted in 2018 are associated with relative reductions in manufacturing employment and relative increases in producer prices,” the economists wrote.
But as long as the overall growth continues to hum, Republicans hope that Trump will be able to maintain support on the economy. One recent poll, conducted by the Financial Times and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, found that more than half of likely US voters believe the Trump administration has helped the economy through its policies.
The record-long expansion stands in a solid place heading into 2020, with the unemployment rate at its lowest level in half a century. Trump is claiming victory on the first stage of a trade deal with China and a rewrite of NAFTA, even as critics argue that months of bruising tariffs weren’t worth the changes.
“Communities that have been left behind were a big part of the reason Trump won; he spoke directly to their concerns and fears,” said Douglas Heye, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee. “As manufacturing struggles, Trump will need to demonstrate how he can help bring it back, even at this late point.”