Restore our manufacturing jobs

Wed, 08/15/2012


Restore our manufacturing jobs
Aug 15, 2012    

Written by
Scott Paul

In a few weeks, the political world will descend upon North Carolina for the Democratic Convention, and both presidential candidates will surely return to the state repeatedly before Election Day. Pundits predict the race to remain close both nationally and here, due to an electorate equally divided between the parties and split on many major issues.

However, if the candidates want to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, here’s a tip: Americans across the political spectrum demonstrate remarkable agreement with the statement, “Our top economic priority should be restoring America’s global leadership in manufacturing.”

A substantial majority of voters rate manufacturing as the industry “most important to the overall strength of the American economy,” according to an Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) national poll released in July. An impressive 89 percent of voters support a national manufacturing strategy to restore U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and they want aggressive action by Washington to help create manufacturing jobs.

How important is creating manufacturing jobs for voters? It ranked higher than even such pressing issues as the deficit, cutting spending, and reforming immigration. Two-thirds of voters think the U.S. needs a strong manufacturing base if future generations of Americans are to thrive and succeed, vs. only 29 percent who think new areas like high-tech or services can fill the void if America’s manufacturing sector disappears.

This issue is crucial to job growth in swing-state North Carolina, the number five-ranked manufacturing state in the country. The manufacturing sector here accounts for a fifth of the state’s economy and employs 438,000 workers.

Are the presidential candidates responding? So far, voters aren’t satisfied that either candidate is matching rhetoric with action. Even when politicians talk more about manufacturing, as they have in recent years, they don’t lay out clear plans to create more manufacturing jobs, according to the voters surveyed.

Voters understand a fundamental truth about the erosion of America’s manufacturing base: it has occurred in large part because of misguided trade policies. The federal government has failed to systematically confront predatory practices, like currency manipulation and massive subsidies, used by our trading partners.

China was a top concern of the voters surveyed. More than two-thirds of respondents said that China’s trade violations were responsible for U.S. job loss. And 62 percent want the federal government to get tougher on China for violating trade agreements.

By keeping its currency undervalued relative to the dollar, China artificially raises the price of goods manufactured in America and shipped to China, while lowering the price of Chinese products sold here — a practice that has devastated North Carolina’s furniture and textile industries and cost the state 107,000 jobs from 2001 to 2010.

Some argue that confronting China could “start a trade war.” But voters don’t buy it; more than 60 percent preferred a policy of confrontation over one of diplomatic passivity. And 83 percent had an unfavorable view of companies that outsource jobs to China.

Auto workers – including 17,000 in North Carolina – remain vulnerable to foreign trade violations, such as China’s massive subsidization of its auto-parts industry. Voters strongly endorsed the federal government’s 2009 rescue of the auto industry: Sixty-one percent of those polled supported the government’s action and 57 percent think the quality of U.S. cars has improved since the government acted.

No less than 87 percent of voters support strong Buy America preferences to ensure that their tax dollars are spent on American-made components for the next generation of bridges, rail, and other infrastructure projects.

The most encouraging news from AAM’s national survey? Voters remain optimistic about America’s economic future. Though 56 percent say the U.S. is no longer the world’s strongest economy, nearly nine in 10 think it could be again. One sign of hope: the favorability rating of America’s manufacturers has risen from 68 percent to 91 percent in the past two years.

As the Democrats gather in Charlotte and both campaigns visit North Carolina in the weeks ahead, they should remember that voters fervently hope for a day when America again leads the world in making things. They want their leaders to share that dream — and to do what’s necessary to make it a reality. A presidential candidate who fails to articulate a bold national manufacturing strategy will have trouble winning in November.

Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a non-profit, non-partisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers to explore common solutions to challenging public policy topics such as job creation, infrastructure investment, international trade, and global competitiveness.

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