WASHINGTON — David Green scored a coveted seat in the House of Representatives chamber to watch President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. He drove five hours from Ohio to hear one thing: what Trump is going to do to help America’s left-behind communities.
Trump promised to bring jobs back to places like Green’s hometown of Lordstown, Ohio. So far, that’s not happening. Lordstown lost its steel mills decades ago. Now it’s losing auto factory jobs as General Motors is set to shutter a large plant in town in a month.
In his speech, Trump celebrated low unemployment and strong jobs gains in the past two years, dubbing it a “boom.” The president went out of his way to claim that 600,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created, an inflated statistic. In reality, a strong (but more modest) 436,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since Trump took office, according to the Labor Department.
But some parts of the country aren’t feeling the gains.
“We’ve seen nothing but job losses here,” said Green, president of UAW Local 1112. “We haven’t experienced that manufacturing jobs boom here.”
New research out Wednesday from the New York Federal Reserve highlights how 6 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the United States between 2000 and 2010. About 1 million manufacturing jobs have returned since then, an encouraging sign, but the new jobs have come mainly in “auto alley” — parts of Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina where car and truck manufacturing is heaviest.
Many of the new jobs have been in transportation parts suppliers in auto alley or “advanced manufacturing” on the West Coast. Parts of the Rust Belt are still shedding manufacturing jobs or, at least, not adding new manufacturing jobs.
The losers include much of the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic. New York, Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, which includes Cleveland, Youngstown and Lordstown, are still getting hit hard.
“While job losses during the 2000s were fairly widespread across the country, manufacturing employment gains since then have been concentrated in particular parts of the country,” wrote economists Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz of the New York Fed.
Green sent a letter to Trump on Friday, warning Trump of the “devastating impact” the closure of the GM factory in Lordstown will have. The plant, which made the Chevy Cruze, will have zero employees by mid-March. Green wrote that over 40,000 jobs in Ohio will be cut or scaled back when the plant shutters.
Trumbull County, where the factory is located, voted heavily for Obama in 2012. It swung to Trump in 2016, helping secure the president’s victory.
Trump appeared to understand how critical these voters were to his success. He held a big rally in nearby Youngstown in the summer of 2017, promising the crowd the jobs were “all coming back.” He even told people, “Don’t sell your house. … We’re going to get those jobs coming back.”
Places like Lordstown have faced decades of struggle, and Trump isn’t the first president to promise a turnaround that never came. President Barack Obama visited the Lordstown plant in 2009 and said the “survival and success” of the U.S. economy depends on getting the U.S. auto industry back on its feet.
The jobs at GM in Lordstown paid $30 an hour with benefits, substantially above the U.S. median hourly wage of $18 an hour.
Trump said Tuesday that his tax cuts, deregulation efforts and trade fights with China are helping boost the economy and grow jobs. He also said building a wall along the southern border would help jobs in the United States, a claim most economists say is not true.
Green didn’t hear much that was new from the president.
“I don’t know if it’s Trump’s fault we’re losing our jobs, but I don’t think he’s done anything to stop the bleeding we’re feeling here,” Green said. “The GOP tax cut didn’t help. The free trade agreement hasn’t helped. There’s nothing Trump has done that has helped.”
GM has said it’s no longer profitable for the company to make small sedans like the Cruze in the United States. The company is focusing mainly on SUVs, trucks and electric vehicles going forward.
What should be done to help places like Lordstown remains an open question, one that Trump and Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race will probably have to answer.