Southern History Month 2019: Southern Manufacturing Job Losses Since WTO and NAFTA

Editor’s Note: Far from being a new theme, I have been researching and writing about these issues for over a decade on this site.

“Were the Americans, either by combination or by another sort of violence, to stop the importation of European manufactures, and, by thus giving a monopoly to such of their own countrymen as could manufacture the like goods, divert any considerable part of their capital into this employment, they will instead retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country toward wealth and greatness.”

– Adam Smith, 1776

Since 1994, Dixie has lost nearly 2 million NET manufacturing jobs thanks to the WTO and free-trade agreements like NAFTA. Manufacturing employment has dropped in absolute numbers in every Southern state. This has led to thousands of blighted, abandoned factories left behind in communities all across the South. The above image is Ensley Steel Works in Metro Birmingham.

Use this convenient tool to search for the jobs that free-trade has destroyed in your area. You will be surprised to learn how many jobs the US Department of Labor has certified as being lost due to free-trade under the Trade Assistance Adjustment Program.

In many of these states, the job losses due to free-trade are even more staggering than they appear to be here. These are only the manufacturing jobs, but many jobs in agriculture (aquaculture) and services (accounting) have been sent overseas as well. Blompf is right that he is being killed in trade by China, Japan and Mexico. We haven’t run a trade surplus with these countries in 20 years.

We’ve demolished our manufacturing base, exported it to East Asia and replaced it with low-wage gig economy jobs that don’t generate as much taxable wealth. As for the foreign manufacturing plants which are held up as proof of the magic of free-trade, Alabama paid ThyssenKrupp over $1 billion dollars for a steel mill, $158 million dollars for Airbus, $253 million dollars for Mercedes-Benz, and $234 million dollars for Hyundai. Georgia got a KIA plant for $400 million dollars. We subsidize foreigners with billions of dollars in incentive packages to build plants here to take over our own market.

Investing in our own future is decried as “socialism” and “protectionism” by Boomers who seriously believe in lolbertarian economics. According to free-market theorists like Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say, the United States was destined to be an agricultural country “like Poland,” but unlike China and the rest of East Asia we are still following their advice two centuries later. In hindsight, the South was “like Poland” in the sense that it was unable to defend itself and lost its independence.

I happen to agree with Andrew Yang that is too late to “bring back the jobs” and take the Boomers back to the 1950s. The last 70 years have still been a self-inflicted disaster. Even in East Asia, those industrial jobs will eventually be abolished by automation. The same is true of lolbertarian economics in general because the application of deep learning AI to the global economy will rapidly expose the fact that scientific and technological progress is generating the wealth, not human labor.

When it becomes clear that robotic slaves are creating and generating wealth, displacing human beings from the workforce and the bags are stacking up in Jeff Bezos’s bank account, what happens then? Why is Bezos entitled to all the wealth created by his robotic slaves? Isn’t he becoming rich like the Waltons by annihilating retail trade all over the country?

Alabama

“Alabama lost 102,100 manufacturing jobs (or 28.6 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Alabama declined from 26 percent to 16.7 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

North Carolina

“North Carolina lost 359,794 manufacturing jobs (or 44.2 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in North Carolina declined from 29.6 percent to 13.2 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

South Carolina

“South Carolina lost 111,503 manufacturing jobs (or 32.4 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in South Carolina declined from 27.2 percent to 14.7 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Georgia

“Georgia lost 150,487 manufacturing jobs (or 29 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Georgia declined from 20 percent to 10.6 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Florida

“Florida lost 109,542 manufacturing jobs (or 24.7 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Florida declined from 9.2 percent to 4.9 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Virginia

“Virginia lost 140,969 manufacturing jobs (or 37.8 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Virginia declined from 16 percent to 7.8 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Maryland

“Maryland lost 72,825 manufacturing jobs (or 41.3 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Maryland declined from 10.4 percent to 5 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

West Virginia

“West Virginia lost 30,908 manufacturing jobs (or 39.3 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in West Virginia declined from 15.4 percent to 8.4 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Tennessee

“Tennessee lost 182,817 manufacturing jobs (or 35.8 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Tennessee declined from 26 percent to 13.7 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Kentucky

“Kentucky lost 44,654 manufacturing jobs (or 15.8 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Kentucky declined from 22.3 percent to 15.5 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Mississippi

“Mississippi lost 103,113 manufacturing jobs (or 42.3 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Mississippi declined from 30 percent to 16 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Missouri

“Missouri lost 105,798 manufacturing jobs (or 29.1 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Missouri declined from 18.2 percent to 11.3 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Oklahoma

“Oklahoma lost 18,346 manufacturing jobs (or 11.5 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma declined from 16.4 percent to 11 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Arkansas

“Arkansas lost 81,116 manufacturing jobs (or 34.8 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2014), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Arkansas declined from 28.3 percent to 16 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Louisiana

“Louisiana lost 31,315 manufacturing jobs (or 17.5 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Louisiana declined from 13.6 percent to 9 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

Texas

“Texas lost 71,564 manufacturing jobs (or 7.4 percent) during the NAFTA-WTO period (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* This figure is for total manufacturing employment, so it takes into account both jobs created by exports and jobs displaced by imports, among other causes of net job change. The percentage of all private sector jobs that are manufacturing jobs in Texas declined from 15.8 percent to 9.2 percent during the NAFTA-WTO period.”

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14 Comments

  1. Yang (and Hunter) is behind the times on automation destroying our jobs. You are still trying to convince people it’s going to happen and in so many occupations it has already come and taken over their jobs. Machinery does most welding, print shops have all been automated, manufacturing (that’s left) is mainly conveyor line automated assembly, writing programs write many articles for news agencies (that’s why sometimes articles have very wonky phrasing)…my point is Yang is wrong about the next 15 years consuming a lot of jobs-its already happened and they have already been destroyed. Yang is offering a tiny amount for what has already been traded in retrospect. The only solution is a radical one. If we want our lives back we are going to have to take it back forcibly.

    Even if you think money is a reasonable stop gap or trade off, why just $1,000? These moguls are making billions from these machines literally. At least demand a $5,000-$10,000 a month dividend. I’m not anti Yang or UBI but I don’t think he really understands a lot of realities.

    A guy like Yang always lived in upper middle class, some nice LA neighborhood or New York or New Jersey, didn’t spend much time on factory lines, in run down neighborhoods, immigration is no problem since he’s a Chinaman, I’m sure he got into a great school on his minority status, got handed some great job straight out of college because some white cuck Boomer wanted to show how global his company is…..not too much dirt under his nails, no grease on his shirt, but I bet he has given a hell of a “team meeting” before with fancy coffee mugs and comfy clothes (make sure it’s casual business dress!).

    A robot could do a better job than Yang. Actually, that’s a great point. Since automation has vastly made efficient all occupations, when will they run our Governments for us? Funny that isn’t ever on the table. I bet a computer judge would be a lot more impartial than any Charlottesville turd in a black robe.

    • Professional,

      I agree it has already happened.

      That’s why I see the issue so clearly in its historical context. The demise of sharecropping was caused by automation. Something like 2% of the population now works in agriculture. If you look at what happened to agriculture and imagine the same thing happening to manufacturing and services, you can see what I am driving at about a post-modern economy in which few people still work.

      • Unfortunately, Hunter, we have Oligarchs who rightly fear their powerlessness and irrelevancy in the new century, and will do all that they can to sabotage automation and UBI. Or to delay and stultify it for as long as they possibly can.

        Which will hurt us badly, and do a lot of long term damage that will make it hard for us to catch up to the 21st Century world.

        The reluctance of companies to invest in new equipment, and the Oligarchs’ suppression of news from the outside world, especially news of advances in medicine, science and technology, convinces me of this.

        I don’t doubt technology. I don’t doubt Yang. It’s Human nature that I doubt and mistrust. We don’t have a technological problem. We have a Human problem. A political problem.

        UBI should be at least 2k a month. But it can’t work in this country, given the current cultural and political climate. And leaders at all levels, who fear and resist innovation.

  2. Was it (((Noam Chomsky))) who pointed out, correctly, that the former third world economies that did manage to develop did so precisely because they ignored Western economic “advice” and orthodoxy? I think it was. In fact, in South Korea you get the death penalty for capital flight, while in America you end up on the cover of Forbes.
    Interestingly it was the US who pioneered tarrifs and protectionism in order to protect their textile and steel industry from superior British competition. Free market my ass.

  3. Your link to “use this convenient tool” doesn’t link to anything.

    Or rather, it links to a page saying “Page Not Found.”

  4. Every town that you drive through in Alabama (I live here in the North part of Alabama) has boarded up buildings that obviously were at one time manufacturing plants or some kind of similar industry. In cities like Cullman (which is actually growing), Scottsboro, Moulton, etc., people will commute to Huntsville for relatively decent paying jobs – but in many cases these are still retail jobs.

    I’m amazed at the GOP’s positive spin on the GDP given that when I look around me, it’s obvious that the middle class has been decimated and in reality – except for truck drivers, there is no solid group representing the middle class anymore. The people in the original middle class have joined the working class and the poor with no options to go anywhere else.

    The govt figures say that middle class income starts at about $40,000 / year – any family of 4 living on this income level certainly does not consider themselves “middle class” given that “middle class” used to mean you could raise a family on your income, purchase a decent single family home, have one or two cars, have a yearly family vacation, and save for college. This also does not take into account how much is deducted from worker paychecks for family medical coverage (20+ years ago, medical coverage was 100% paid by the company). So what they’ve (the govt) done is stretched / massaged the numbers to make it seem like we still have a middle class – when in reality, we have a very large poor / working class, a very small “middle class”, and a small “rich class”.

    But it doesn’t matter anymore as the Federal govt is insolvent. Last year it had to borrow $1+ Trillion for which over half went to cover interest payments on the National Debt – and this will continue until we hit the $30 Trillion mark (total amount of National Debt). At that point nobody will buy the debt (treasuries) anymore, the govt will be unable to make the interest payments and cover social security medicare, defense, and all of the other govt agencies. Thus within 5 years we are going to see a Depression (when the govt defaults on the debt or severely slashes its budget in order to pay on the debt) that will make the 1930s look like a walk in the park. That’s when FEMA will activate the “closed” Walmart buildings around the country to “house” rioters and displaced families.

    Folks – the future is very grim.

    • @Jim Hansen
      Very good description of North Alabama. Marshall county, where I live, is one that was devastated by NAFTA. Now three of the winners though are Madison, Limestone and the city of Florence.

      Marshall county is engaging in something that will have detrimental effects from now on, the importation of East Africans and Haitians to work in the poultry plants. Hispanic merged into the social fabric fairly well, these new folks are not and they will have a negative long-term impact.

  5. “Alabama paid ThyssenKrupp over $1 billion dollars for a steel mill, $158 million dollars for Airbus, $253 million dollars for Mercedes-Benz, and $234 million dollars for Hyundai. Georgia got a KIA plant for $400 million dollars. We subsidize foreigners with billions of dollars in incentive packages to build plants here to take over our own market.”

    I’d bet that none of these facilities have 70 year old machinery and 1981 computer systems, either. Or a 19th Century work culture and management style.

  6. I happen to agree with Andrew Yang that is too late to “bring back the jobs” and take the Boomers back to the 1950s.

    Me too. However, this is exactly what Biden will promise voters in Western New York, Pennsylvania and Great Lakes. It’s how he’ll capture their votes, and the Presidency.

    The South and Interior West are absolutely politically irrelevant to this process.

    On a tangent: Because Trump split Yankeedom, vote wise, the 2016 election was one of the few where the votes of Dixie and the West actually mattered.

  7. In hindsight, the South was “like Poland” in the sense that it was unable to defend itself and lost its independence.

    This brings up two questions that no Northerner or Neo-Yankee seems to be able to answer.

    Why should Southerners have had to put up with legal and political abuse from their supposed “fellow countrymen” in the North?

    Why should Southerners have had to defend themselves politically, legally, and finally, militarily, against their supposed “fellow Americans” in the Northern states?

  8. That which remains of manufacturing/machining jobs in what was once “the machine shop of the nation” have turned to shit. Low wages and long hours have become the rule, and these in “red” counties. The Chamber of Commerce republicans have done this to us. Most of these jobs were in a county that was and remains deep Blue. At the same time they’ve become blacker and browner.

    • “Low wages and long hours have become the rule, ”

      Yep, 19th Century work regimen, with broken down, ancient machines that can barely even hold a tolerance anymore.

      • You betcha’! I dunno’ what you’d call “ancient”tho’. Most machining centers I’ve run jobs on were made in Japan or South Korea about 25 to 40 years ago.

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