EPI: U.S. Trade Deficit With China Cost 3.4m Jobs Since 2001

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The skyrocketing U.S. trade deficit with China, starting in 2001, cost U.S. workers 3.4 million jobs, including jobs that disappeared and those that weren’t created because firms faced low-cost Chinese competition, a new Economic Policy Institute analysis says. In addition, U.S. workers lost at least $37 billion in wages due to Chinese competition, EPI adds.

Every single U.S. congressional district lost jobs, but losses were higher in heavy manufacturing states and high-tech areas, such as Silicon Valley and Portland, Ore. Three-fourths of the losses were in factories, EPI analyst Robert Scott calculated, using U.S. data.

“What is needed is a clear, comprehensive approach to deal with China’s protective and predatory trade practices,” said Steelworkers President Leo Gerard after reading the report. His union leads the way among unions and businesses in bringing trade cases against China.

“China has used virtually every tool, legal and illegal, to steal our jobs and undermine our manufacturing base and economy. Subsidies, dumping, overcapacity, currency manipu-lation and cyberespionage are all used by China to help amass a $3.9 trillion trade surplus since 2001. Mounting trade deficits are sapping our economic strength and undermining our national security. It’s time to demand that China play by the rules,” Gerard added.

But he also faulted so-called “free traders” in the U.S. “Our government needs to recognize how its flawed trade policies damaged workers and their communities, while corporations and Wall Street have reaped profits. We need a new approach to trade that puts working families first,” Gerard declared.

California led in sheer job losses, with 589,100 jobs in the Golden State – 3.6 percent of all jobs – lost to China from 2001-15, Scott calculated. The largest losses were in Silicon Valley’s congressional districts.

But in statewide percentages, California finished second-worst, behind Oregon. That state lost 65,000 jobs to China in the same era, or 3.82 percent of all its workers. Half the Oregon losses were in Portland.

Minnesota, at 3.27 percent of all state jobs lost, was fourth-worst (-89,100 jobs), with the largest share in Rochester and the south. Illinois, at 2.52 percent (-149,400 jobs) was 14th overall. Of those, 17,200 were in the 6th congressional district in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs. Missouri lost 50,700 jobs and Ohio lost 121,500.

The U.S.-China trade deficit is so large that it now accounts for 48.2 percent of the overall U.S. trade deficit, Scott reports. In several sectors – notably advanced technology – the U.S. had a trade surplus with the rest of the world through 2015, and a huge deficit with China.

“Growth of the trade deficit means the United States is both losing jobs in manufacturing electronics and high tech, apparel, textiles, and a range of heavier durable goods industries -- and missing opportunities to add jobs in manufacturing, in exporting industries such as transport equipment, agricultural products, computer and electronic parts, chemicals, machinery, and food and beverages, because imports from China have soared, and exports have increased much less,” he explained.

Scott’s report notes U.S. exports to China increased from $19.2 billion in 2001 to $116 billion in 2015,  the latest federal figures available. But imports from China rose from $102.3 billion in 2001 to $483.2 billion in 2015.

The biggest losses – 1.238 million jobs -- have been in computers and electronics. That includes factories that produce computers and their components.

“Some regions are devastated by layoffs and factory closings while others are surviving but not growing the way they could be if new factories were opening and existing plants were hiring more workers. This slowdown in manufacturing job generation is also contributing to stagnating wages and incomes of typical workers and widening inequality,” Scott said.

That’s because while China benefited from the trade deficit, so did U.S.-based multinational corporations, he calculated. Scott advanced several solutions for closing the China trade gap. They included:

• Enhanced enforcement of fair trade laws, including more anti-dumping and countervailing duty verdicts and more cases against China with the World Trade Organization.

• Making elimination of Chinese overcapacity a goal of U.S.-China trade talks. Much of that over-capacity is in government-owned firms, Scott said. Those firms also receive heavy Chinese government subsidies. “This excess capacity fuels the dumping of exports into the U.S.,” Scott wrote.

• Barring China from bidding on federal procurement contracts, and banning the Chinese government-owned firms from investing in U.S. manufacturing and high-tech firms. The Machinists have campaigned against such investment for years, citing national security.

• Keeping China a “non-market economy” under WTO rules. Making it a market economy takes away many U.S. trade enforcement tools, Scott notes.

• Negotiating a new pact with China, similar to the Plaza Accord many years ago, to curb its currency manipulation, which also gives its exporters an unfair advantage.

“In short, the U.S.–China trade relationship needs to undergo a fundamental change. In addition to putting an end to the unfair trade practices outlined here, the new terms of this relationship must include action on China’s part to reduce its massive and growing savings glut by raising wages, increasing spending on health care and pensions, and recognizing free and independent trade unions. Through these steps, China can raise consumption and end its persistent trade surpluses,” Scott says.  

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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