The gap between what comes out of President Trump’s mouth and reality is often big enough to drive one of the Mack Trucks he so adores through.
Trump promised manufacturing and construction would blossom under his tutelage and has recently turned to claiming he’s delivering on that pledge. Problem is: Reality tells a decidedly different story.
North Carolina job growth in manufacturing and construction collapsed over the past few years. North Carolina construction employment in 2019 was essentially flat, and we lost nearly 2,000 manufacturing jobs last year.
It would be one thing if both industries were already roaring along at peak output, but neither has recovered to anything close to the levels of employment they provided before the Great Recession. The construction trades employ 33,000 fewer North Carolinians than before the recession, and our state has lost 62,000 manufacturing jobs over the same period of time. The scale of these middle-class job losses in the 13 years since the start of the recession is staggering. The combined decline in manufacturing and construction employment is larger than the total working population of cities like Fayetteville, Wilmington, or Cary.
The President did not single-handedly cause the collapse of manufacturing and construction job growth in North Carolina, but his policy record isn’t anything to write home about. President Trump couldn’t muster the leadership to pass his promised infrastructure initiative that could have boosted both manufacturing and construction employment. Not only has imposing tariffs on friends and adversaries alike failed to bring manufacturing back from overseas, Trump’s trade wars have hurt North Carolina manufacturers who export to other countries. It’s difficult to say precisely how much of the drop-off in manufacturing employment is directly due to the President’s trade conflicts, but his policies have certainly cut into North Carolina’s billions of dollars in exports.
However much of the responsibility he directly bears, both industries posted larger gains in 2014 and 2015 than during any year of the Trump presidency. For a president who claimed that only he could fix our upside-down economy, that’s a poor showing.
As outrageous as Trump’s promises were, the real tragedy is playing out in communities and living rooms across North Carolina. Many of the people who once made a good living in construction and manufacturing have lost the economic security they fought so hard to achieve.
The good-paying jobs being created in North Carolina today are highly concentrated in a few metropolitan areas and generally require advanced technical training in fields far removed from manufacturing and construction. As a result, many of the North Carolinians who used to earn enough to get by and save a bit for the future have been forced into low-wage jobs that don’t pay the bills.
Patrick McHugh is a senior policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center. Policy Watch is a project of the Justice Center.