I am an optimistic believer in the possibility of an America which can move forward unified, despite the differences we have in race, class, education, the list goes on ad infinitum. But first, I need to try to understand the people who I did not agree with on Election Day. This section of the population, I may have little in common with on a core issue that does not directly affect me. A healthy future depends on how well we try to understand one another regardless of our differences.
In this two part series, I set out to explore job loss in the manufacturing industry; an industry which once provided good jobs with decent pay to many of the working class men in the rust belt and southern regions of the United States. A great deal of time and effort was devoted to this issue on the campaign trail and the debate became a hot button issue.
Like many other baffled Americans, I was fascinated with the passion and adoration Trump supporters had for him. Many of these supporters were white, working class males from the rust belt and southern states, a large and specific section of the population that feel forgotten by Washington D.C.
While the exit polls continued to roll out, it didn’t take long after November 8th to figure out why this specific demographic had supported Trump with intensity and fervor. Trump’s message on the campaign trail and the lines of people who came out in droves to vote for him began to align as the whole picture came into focus.
Donald Trump’s campaign was built on the foundation of statements that were emotionally charging rather than factually accurate. One of his earliest claims that remain part of the bedrock of his platform is that China and Mexico are responsible for the massive hemorrhaging of U.S. manufacturing jobs. He claims that U.S. companies have opted out of the American labor force and have moved their plants overseas to take advantage of cheap labor.
Like much of what Trump says, this statement does not tell the complete story, nor is it beneficial to the millions of working class men once employed in manufacturing. On the contrary, it serves as a war drum beat to rally support behind his agenda.
The real job killer of American manufacturing is automation. Robots, not the Chinese or Mexicans, are responsible for the shrinking of manufacturing jobs. These jobs are mostly in male-dominated industries and were once a way for people who were not skilled workers or college educated to make a decent living with healthcare and benefits.
In the manufacturing industry, which has been decimated by automation, men hold 73 percent of factory jobs. In April of 2016, the Congressional Research Service, whose research influences many of the bills that pass through the Legislature, published their report “U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective.”
The report showed that the United State is second to only China in global manufacturing output, yet since 1990, U.S. employment in manufacturing is down 31 percent. The report also states:
“The United States saw a disproportionately large drop between 2000 and 2010, but its decline in manufacturing employment since 1990 is in line with the changes in several European countries and Japan.”
Shrinking of employment in manufacturing is a worldwide trend that is not exclusive to America.
The manufacturing industry in America is alive and well;, we are producing more goods than ever before. Due to automation it is no longer necessary to employ thousands of factory workers to do the same job that a few robots can do. Not to mention those robots can work 24/7 without taking breaks, getting hurt, or requiring benefits. Technology is being used globally to increase productivity at the price of displacing workers.
As the tide of automation rises, as it has been for decades, more workers are laid off, houses are foreclosed, and the American dream becomes an abstract concept rather than a practical reality. It also leaves large numbers of mostly working class men justifiably angry and in need of a solution.
Per usual, politicians exploit the situation to capture power. They preach to the unemployed, disenfranchised, and the ones who feel left out by the current political system. Their illusion of a solution is to blame immigrants and foreigners; it’s much more emotional and dramatic than blaming the robots. More importantly it garners support, funds campaigns, and motivates millions to vote for them.
I can’t exclusively fault Trump for promoting this message. While the way in which he does it is highly unsettling, his exploitation of a vulnerable group and subsequent claim of a tangible solution is a tactic politicians on both sides of the aisle have been using since ink dried on the Constitution.
While the exploitations and false promises are not new trends in the world of politics, automation is a relatively new trend affecting employment. Next week, I will take a look at the social implications and social support programs of those who are displaced by automation as well as what it means for the future of employment.
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