Regardless of their personal politics or their assessments of his social-media antics, manufacturing CEOs have to be grateful to President Trump for at least one thing: raising the profile of their industry to an ever-present public priority.
Brookings Institution has just released yet another indicator of one of the effects of Trump’s continual rhetoric about American manufacturing through the three years of his presidential campaign and administration: 72 percent in a new survey now believe manufacturing is very important or somewhat important to the U.S. economy, yet only 17 percent are very confident in its future.
These results demonstrate a highly outsized importance in the public mind for a sector that has been shrinking dramatically. Manufacturing drove only 12 percent of U.S. economic output last year, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, contributing $2.33 trillion to the gross domestic product – and that was only half of its percentage of GDP in 1970. Blame the rise of global manufacturing competition and the burgeoning of the U.S. service economy. Fewer than nine percent of Americans now work in manufacturing jobs.
Yet at a time when many manufacturers are going begging for workers as they never have before, 47 percent of the 2,001 people surveyed by Brookings would encourage young people to get a job in the sector. Only 20 percent wouldn’t. Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturers lately have begun to struggle a bit with market softness, more so than at any time during the Trump administration.
Americans’ assessment of the importance and prospects of manufacturing, not surprisingly, vary demographically. Older citizens, men and Midwesterners and Southerners in the survey were more confident about the future of U.S. manufacturing than younger people, women and those in the Northeast and West.
The survey results bore other sure imprints from the Trump era of U.S. manufacturing. Forty-five percent opposed Trump’s decision to impose 25-percent tariffs on Chinese goods, while 35 percent supported them. The same demographic patterns as for confidence in the future of manufacturing demonstrated themselves in support for the president’s approach to Tariffs (older citizens, men and people in the Heartland) and opposition.
Also, when asked about the biggest barriers to the manufacturing sector, the highest number of those surveyed – 23 percent – cited government regulations, the very factor fingered by Trump before his inaugural and the one most affected by his pro-business actions since then. Twenty-one percent named poorly trained workers as manufacturing’s biggest obstacle, 14 percent cited high taxes, and 8 percent claimed energy costs.