Bringing Back Manufacturing Jobs Would Be Harder Than It Sounds On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump frequently promises to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. But how realistic is it to think he could do that, if elected?
NPR logo

Bringing Back Manufacturing Jobs Would Be Harder Than It Sounds

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/490192497/490450009" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bringing Back Manufacturing Jobs Would Be Harder Than It Sounds

Bringing Back Manufacturing Jobs Would Be Harder Than It Sounds

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/490192497/490450009" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The U.S. has lost nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Donald Trump says that if elected president he'll bring a lot of those jobs back. NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at some of the steps a President Trump might take to restore factory jobs.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: It's a line that almost always generates loud applause for Donald Trump at his rallies - he will bring back the factory jobs that have been sent overseas. Here he was at a rally in Pennsylvania last Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: What we're going to do, folks, is going to be so special. We're going to bring it back. We're going to bring back our jobs. We're going to bring back our companies.

ZARROLI: Legally speaking, there seems little that a President Trump could do to bring jobs back or to stop companies from sending them overseas. Without an act of Congress, it's simply not within his authority. Jeffrey Bergstrand is a professor of finance at Notre Dame University.

JEFFREY BERGSTRAND: Firms are going to make the decisions for their shareholders. If he wants to do this, he is going to have to use government and institute laws to restrict decisions of firms.

ZARROLI: What Trump does promise to do is scrap existing trade agreements and begin the lengthy process of renegotiating them. And in the meantime, he says, he would slap steep tariffs on U.S. companies, such as United Technologies' carrier division, that export jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Every single unit that you make that crosses our now very, very strong border, we're going to charge you 35 percent of the cost of that unit.

ZARROLI: Could a President Trump impose tariffs unilaterally? Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics says it would be pretty unusual. But he says tariffs can be imposed in the interest of national security. That doesn't mean it would be a good idea, Bown says. For one thing, he says, if the U.S. imposed tariffs on, say, China, then Beijing would almost certainly file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. And in the meantime, it would retaliate against the U.S.

CHAD BOWN: We would lose the tens of billions of dollars a year in soybean exports that we send to China, in corn, in wheat, in autos. And so all of the people that work in those sectors are now all of a sudden going to be losing their jobs.

ZARROLI: Beyond that, he says, it would be hugely disruptive. It would be a time of immense uncertainty for businesses around the world.

BOWN: If I'm running a business and it's unclear to me if Donald Trump is going to allow me to be able to import parts or components that I need to be able to make my particular good, I don't know what to do.

ZARROLI: There are other less dramatic steps the White House can take to boost trade, says Aric Newhouse of the National Association of Manufacturers. It can initiate talks with countries that have closed their markets to U.S. goods. It can also address tax and regulatory reform, issues that Neuhaus says make it harder for manufacturers to operate in the U.S..

ARIC NEWHOUSE: So it's really unfortunately not one magic bullet. It's not if you do this one thing manufacturing is going to come back to the United States. You have to do a little bit of a lot of things.

ZARROLI: And there's another reality about factory jobs today. Chad Bown says manufacturers have become a lot more productive and simply don't need as many employees as they once did.

BOWN: So it's a lot more robots, computers, equipment and many, many fewer people. So what you see is there is still even today, you know, a lot of manufacturing activity in the United States. It's just done with many, many fewer workers.

ZARROLI: A President Trump might be able to coax or even bully manufacturers back to U.S. soil, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be bringing a lot of jobs back with them. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.