"Everyone was obviously devastated because it was such a shock. There were lots of people crying."

Mostly, the consequences of bad trade are described in numbers. These tell of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, declining wages and life expectancy and rising suicides and drug addiction. 

They’re shocking. And sad. 

But they don’t tell the whole story. That can only be done by the workers who are cut down by bad trade deals, devastating trade policies and defective trade enforcement. 

Here, for example, is what former Carrier worker Lakita Clark said about the day in 2016 that the officials at Carrier’s Indianapolis plant announced their plan to move furnace manufacturing to Mexico: “Everyone was obviously devastated because it was such a shock. There were lots of people crying.”

Maury King constructed furniture for Joerns Healthcare in Stevens Point, Wis., until a venture capital group moved the work to Mexico. After the shutdown announcement, King and a former plant owner worked with state and local officials to put together a package of benefits to try to persuade the venture capitalists to keep the work in America. But, King said, they didn’t listen. “We put more sweat into saving the place than they did. They didn’t make any effort. It was going to close no matter what we did.”

Jackie Starks, who was among 1,900 workers who lost their jobs when Goodyear shut its Union City, Tenn., tire plant in 2011, said of his family, “We had to cut back on a lot of stuff, on everything really. We had a camper and a little place at the lake, and we had to let all of that go. We sold the camper. I had to draw down on my 401(k) savings, my retirement money, for us to live on. At one point, my 10-year-old son asked me if he should get a job.”

Tim Crase worked for Whirlpool in Fort Smith, Ark., until the corporation moved the jobs to Mexico in 2011. He said when it happened, “I felt like the whole world was crashing down on me. To make matters worse, I was diagnosed with cancer the same year we closed. And since I was on medical leave to take care of myself, I didn’t qualify for the severance package. That left me struggling to get one of my kids through college.”

Terry Bennington and his wife lost their pensions when Republic Storage shut down its Canton, Ohio, locker manufacturing plant in 2015. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which takes over bankrupt plans, gives the Benningtons less than half of what they had earned. He said, “Everything we planned on doing when we retired went away. We can’t afford to travel now. The biggest traveling I do is to the basement to paint.”

Jay Dillon and 130 others lost their jobs at Flint Group Pigments in Huntington, W.Va., in October of 2017. Finding a new job that pays family-supporting wages is nearly impossible there now, he said. “The only jobs left in Huntington now are service jobs, like burger flipping and housekeeping. But service jobs pay poorly compared to factory jobs, and they’re no good if you have no one to service, and nobody here has any money anymore.”

Doug Hilliard got another job after Indspec, where he’d worked 13 years, closed in 2017. But Hilliard, who had lived and worked in the area of Petrolia, Pa., most of his life, would have to hold down two jobs now to earn the same amount he did at Indspec. “I’ll be making $14 less an hour. I will have a high, $6,000 deductible on my health insurance. There will be no pension and no company match on the 401(k).”

Lisa Crissman, who worked for Flabeg until it stopped manufacturing car mirrors in Brackenridge, Pa., in 2012, now works for Pittsburgh Glass Works, which announced it will close its East Deer, Pa., windshield factory in 2018. She said the shutdowns affect the whole community. “The little town of East Deer will get hurt. East Deer officials already announced they won’t repair tennis and hockey courts in Memorial Park next year because they’re afraid the town won’t receive sufficient tax revenue.”

Rex Stapp worked as a welder for Polar Tank in Springfield, Mo., for two decades until the company shipped the work to Mexico. He said NAFTA has devastated his community. “If you looked at our community 20 years ago before NAFTA and free trade had a chance to really turn the tables on the American worker, you might see one person who was homeless or needed help. Now there are people standing with a sign on every corner.”

Each of these workers wrote about their experiences after losing their jobs. Those accounts explain the real cost of bad trade.