This year’s political ads and the rhetoric emanating from candidates running nationwide tell us that the four letter word of the year is "j-o-b-s." If the 1992 presidential election was about the economy, then the 2010 midterms and the 2012 presidential election will be about jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the current unemployment rate in the nation for July 2010 was 9.5 percent. This is not good considering that the Obama economic team was optimistic in early 2009 that the passage of the nearly $1 trillion stimulus package would hold that unemployment figure below 8.5 percent. The public’s concern with the unemployment rate is obvious as 38 percent told an early July CBS News poll that jobs and the economy are their top concern with the next closest issue trailing by 31 points.
What’s holding back the recovery? Where are the jobs? Why can’t we seem to get out of this economic funk even though we spent hundreds of billions to stimulate the economy? Let’s trace the problem to its source: the free trade at all costs mentality that has inflicted the United States with massive industrial and manufacturing job losses. Quality, family sustaining jobs for blue collar workers and young people coming out of high school and college have gone the way of the dinosaur. The policies put in place by our elected officials have turned America’s industrial and manufacturing base into something that our citizens read about in history books instead of help wanted ads.
International economist Robert Scott says that 2.4 million American jobs vanished between 2001 and 2008 because of our increased, most favored nation trading status with the Chinese. Scott also notes that California dropped 370,000 jobs to China while Texas, Illinois, Florida, and New York have lost 100,000 each in those seven years. Meanwhile, the Alliance for American Manufacturing reports that 40,000 manufacturing facilities have shuttered in the United States since 1999.
China isn’t the sole recipient of American jobs. A 2006 study by Scott, Carlos Salas, and Bruce Campbell showed that 1,015,291 U.S. jobs were affected by NAFTA since 1994 and that NAFTA is responsible for displacing over a half million Americans who hold high school degrees or less education into lower paying jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 11 states have lost between 30,000 and 124,000 jobs because of NAFTA, including Pennsylvania, California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan.
How can anyone—even the most dyed in the wool free trader—not admit that the very policies enacted by our own elected officials have caused the painful death of blue collar America? Why do the economic experts who scratch their heads about the high jobless rates on CNBC and other cable talk shows all day ignore the fact that there can be no real recovery without quality jobs that pay decent wages so that Americans can support their families?
Is it any wonder that Economic Policy Institute’s Kai Filion and Andrea Orr report that the two fastest growing occupations in the nation between March 2006 and May 2009 are food preparation and food service workers making $8.28 per hour and home health care workers that make $9.85 per hour? The national median wage is $15.96 per hour and the minimum wage is $7.25. Does it not frighten us that the fastest growing occupations in our country make just above the minimum wage and not even remotely close to the median? What does that say about our future?
Pat Buchanan rightly stated that "Free trade is the serial killer of American manufacturing and the Trojan Horse of World Government. It is the primrose path to the loss of economic independence and national sovereignty. Free trade is a bright shining lie." Our workers know it. Our unemployed know it. Families who have seen a drop in their standard of living and quality of life know it. Americans who have lost their jobs to Red China or Mexico know it. Instead of acting, those in Washington who can do something about it fiddle away while blue collar America bleeds. Instead of demanding new policies, American voters remain more interested in Dancing with the Stars than our dwindling industrial power. Nobody is blameless, but everyone has a stake in a solution.
What can be done? First, we can demand that Congress and the White House start addressing jobs for Americans and defending what remains of our manufacturing and industrial base. Second, we can start treating the corporate leaders who have shipped jobs overseas or across the Rio Grande with as much antipathy as Benedict Arnold. Third, we can begin embracing a word that has been stigmatized everywhere: protectionism.
When faced with the decimation of the American motorcycle industry, Ronald Reagan acted to keep the bikes rolling out of plants in places like the York, Pennsylvania Harley Davidson facility by imposing heavy tariffs on imported motorcycles from 1983-1988. Reagan understood the need for rock-solid Economic Patriotism that considered American workers and jobs first. And it worked as Harley came roaring back to life.
Trade protection programs like the import quota and the tariff helped build the economic and industrial might of this country. They were good enough for the likes of Reagan, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Henry Clay and are good enough for us today. Protectionist President Bill McKinley noted that "Under free trade the trader is the master and the producer the slave. Protection is but the law of nature, the law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man." It’s unfortunate that the free trade presidents like Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama disagree.
There’s a reason that Obama and Biden’s "Recovery Summer" didn’t materialize. It has much to do with the free trade mentality that has gutted our nation’s ability to defend itself economically by giving away the competitive advantage to other countries. Stimulus money can’t restore the millions of lost industrial, blue collar jobs now or ever. In the 2010 and 2012 the rallying cry of the American public ought to be a rebirth of Economic Patriotism in this country that puts our workers, products, and people first to restore and revive a once great republic.
Nathan Shrader is a Republican Committeeman in Philadelphia and a PhD student at Temple University. He can be reached at [email protected]