Critics quickly attacked Republican President George W. Bush’s Labor Day proposal to create a “manufacturing czar” to address long-term job losses in the U.S.’s third largest private-industry sector. Last week’s non-farm payroll employment release (from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) has given them more to squawk about. “And what is President Bush’s response to this unprecedented job loss?” U.S. Rep.Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked. “More tax cuts for the most privileged people in our society.” House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California opined, “The problem is the president’s economic policies, not a lack of staff to implement them.” Suddenly some Democrats have discovered manufacturing.
Partisan criticism of President Bush’s economic record has been a recurring theme in 2003, despite the National Bureau of Economic Research’s July 17 declaration that the recession ended in November 2001.
Democratic hopefuls have been among Bush’s most vocal critics. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), accused him of having the worst economic policy since the Great Depression at an April fundraiser in Connecticut. “They have the most wrong-headed economic policies that we’ve seen since Herbert Hoover,” she said. U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) has termed Bush the “job-loss president.” U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) said, “I hope his tour of [Ohio] will include the empty factories and bankrupt corporations.” These themes will continue through November 2004.
Critics like Clinton and Kerry should have started complaining about manufacturing job losses five years ago. Massachusetts and New York were among the 22 states that recorded losses during William Jefferson Clinton’s presidency. Manufacturing employment reached a peak this business cycle in March 1998 under President Clinton, who had the worst record of job creation (1.9 percent) in the sector among Democrats since the 1930s.
Manufacturing employment expanded at higher percentage rates under presidents Roosevelt (69 percent; 1939-1945); Johnson (17.6 percent); Kennedy (5.5 percent); and Truman (4.8 percent). Even Jimmy Carter’s record (4.7 percent) is better. Yet the Bush critics were silent as this was occurring in the 1990s. Missouri Democrat Richard Gephardt has “talked manufacturing” more in his career than other presidential contenders. But he will be hard-pressed to stand on the weak record of the Clintons.
Eager to throw brickbats, the critics are silent about the glass house they built in the 1990s. There are fewer references in Bill Clinton’s presidential papers to manufacturing sectors like automotive and steel than in Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy’s papers. Do not waste your time searching for “manufacturing” references in the index of Hillary Clinton’s book, Living History. There are none. She defends the stock market bubble but is silent on the Clinton legacy of manufacturing job losses. This is strange as she represents New York, which suffered more manufacturing job losses — 112,200 (13 percent) — under her husband than any other state.
The following states recorded manufacturing job losses under Bill Clinton (January 1993-January 2001): New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhvode Island, South Carolina, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Florida, West Virginia, Maine, Alaska, Louisiana, and Hawaii.
Ironically, nine are southern states whose manufacturing sectors were hit hard during the Clinton administration. The duration of manufacturing job losses in the South have been among the nation’s longest, and include West Virginia (February 1993), South Carolina (December 1994), Mississippi (January 1995), North Carolina (February 1995), Tennessee (March 1995), Alabama (September 1995), Florida (January 1997), Louisiana (November 1997), and Virginia (May 1998). Employment has declined in each state since the months indicated.
More than 90 percent of job losses under President Bush have occurred in the manufacturing sector, but the layoffs started under President Clinton. Undoubtedly, technological advances have caused some reductions. More goods can be produced with fewer workers. But monetary policy has also been an issue contributing to fluctuations in the manufacturing sector, an overlooked factor that dates to the Industrial Revolution. Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow’s trip to China underscores this point.
There are other plausible explanations for manufacturing’s problems. But the partisan critics, many of them attorneys — not entrepreneurs or workers — have not initiated a serious policy discussion. Their apparent strategy is to throw rocks. Remember the old saying, “People in glass houses …”
— Greg Kaza is executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, an economic research organization based in Little Rock.