Did Donald Trump Bring Back American Jobs?

A Timeline of the President's Policies

Trump speaking to auto workers
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Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Donald Trump promised to be the greatest job-producing president in U.S. history. During his 2016 campaign, he pledged to create 25 million jobs in the next 10 years. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 3.1 million fewer jobs in December 2020 than in January 2017 when Trump took office.

If Donald Trump had been able to keep his campaign promise, he would have beaten the current record-holder, President Bill Clinton, who created 18.6 million jobs during his two terms.

To create those jobs, Trump told the Economic Club of New York he wanted to establish a national goal of 4% economic growth. Let's look at the details of his policies and how they've worked during his term.

Key Takeaways

President Trump's policies and negotiations resulted in:

  • 6.6 million jobs created before the pandemic
  • Tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports
  • A renegotiation of NAFTA with the intention of bringing jobs back to the U.S.
  • A reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%
  • Removal of a key Dodd-Frank requirement for banks with assets of less than $100 billion

COVID-19 and the Economy

Trump created 6.6 million jobs before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the economy down. The new jobs his policies created represented a 4.3% increase over the 152.2 million people working at the end of Obama's term.

Shutdowns to slow the pandemic's spread created record job losses.

In response to COVID-19, Trump signed The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020 to restore jobs (20.5 million of which would be lost in April alone) through several forms of assistance to businesses, including:

  • Employee retention credits of 50% on up to $10,000 in wages for each employee
  • Payroll tax credits and deferrals
  • Loans to cover payroll costs

The CARES Act provided benefits, but by February 2021, there were still 10 million people who were unemployed.

"America First" Trade Policy

Trump's trade policy, called "America First," was based on economic nationalism. He supported tariffs, duties, and other forms of protectionism to give domestic industries a competitive advantage. The plan did this in a few primary ways:

End Outsourcing and Bring Back Jobs From Overseas

America lost 31.4% of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2011; these were steady jobs that, on average, paid $28.85 per hour.

U.S. companies outsourced many of these jobs to save money. But robotics, artificial intelligence, and bio-engineering also made some jobs obsolete, so ending outsourcing may not bring back all the jobs that were lost. It's possible that government-sponsored training for these specialties might create more jobs for U.S. workers than a trade war.

Increase U.S. Competitiveness Against China

In 2018, Trump imposed three tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports. In 2019, he levied a 25% tariff on an additional $200 billion worth of goods. China responded with tariffs on $110 billion of U.S. products.

In December 2019, Trump announced a trade deal between the U.S. and China. In the deal, China agreed to increase imports of certain U.S. goods by $200 billion annually.

The Federal Reserve estimated that tariffs on Chinese goods cost the average household $831 a year.

Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017, saying it would force U.S. workers to compete with lower-paid foreign workers, thus sending more jobs overseas. On the other hand, the TPP was formed to help the United States strengthen its ties with Asian countries that are struggling to compete with China. Without the TPP, proponents argue, these countries may rely more on China and less on the United States, making America less competitive.

Strengthen U.S. Competitiveness Against Mexico

Trump has many initiatives that involve Mexico.

Trump successfully renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2018. The new treaty, now called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), was officially ratified by all three parties in early 2020. Its goal was to bring back some U.S. manufacturing jobs sent across the border in previous years. The most significant change is that auto companies must manufacture more parts in the NAFTA trade area.

Trump promised to reduce the number of workers coming from Mexico by completing the wall along the 1,954-mile border. Legislative initiatives from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations led to more than 650 miles of completed wall. Trump added another 371 miles, with a goal to complete 450 miles by the end of 2020.

Nearly half of all current unauthorized immigrants crossed the border with visas and then stayed after the permits expired.

Reduce Corporate and Investment Taxes

Trump's tax plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. This was the lowest rate since 1939.

This change may not be as dramatic as it sounds, though. Most corporations make good use of legal deductions.

The Congressional Budget Office found that a more cost-effective method would be to cut business payroll taxes and increase unemployment aid. Governments should target any stimulus to small businesses, which produce 65% of all new private-sector jobs.

Spend $1 Trillion to Rebuild U.S. Infrastructure

To create jobs, President Trump launched the Rebuild America plan to repair America's aging roads, bridges, and airports. It outlined $200 billion in spending to leverage a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure. It also promised to reduce the permit process time from 10 years to two years. The plan failed as it met roadblock after roadblock.

Infrastructure investment is one of the most efficient ways to use federal dollars to create jobs.

A study by the Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness at Duke University found that $1 billion of federal investment in infrastructure creates 21,671 jobs.

Reduce Regulation

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (EGRRCPA) eased regulations on banks with assets under $100 billion.

Under the looser restrictions, these banks no longer had to run stress tests to ensure they could withstand a major financial catastrophe. Banks with assets of $50-$100 billion no longer had to submit a "living will" to the Fed, which outlined how the bank would safely wind down if facing a financial crisis to prevent another bankruptcy on the scale of Lehman Brothers.

Outside Perspectives About Trump's Plan

Trump's expansionary fiscal policy created 6.6 million jobs by early 2020, but the pandemic erased those gains.

New England Journal of Medicine

The New England Journal of Medicine said the U.S. didn't adequately test nor provide healthcare workers and the general public with enough protective equipment.

It also criticized the administration for handing off disease control to the states instead of launching a national strategy. As a result, social distancing directives were inconsistent. The resultant hotspots of infection kept many businesses closed, and raised unemployment levels.

National Association of Manufacturers

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) had agreed with Trump's plan to lower U.S. manufacturing costs, which are significantly higher than in other countries. NAM wanted Trump to further reduce regulations on manufacturing companies, as it pays nearly twice what companies in other industries do. This raises the price of American-made goods.

On the other hand, NAM disagreed with Trump's protectionism. Other countries raise tariffs in return, which reduced American exports to those countries, even prior to the pandemic. It put a brake on U.S. growth and raised import prices for American consumers.

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Experts also debate how effective tax cuts are at inducing economic growth. Tax cuts are often considered an expensive way to create jobs. Historically, tax cuts haven't created enough new jobs to finance themselves, so the jury is still out on whether Trump's 2017 tax cuts will ultimately help the economy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much influence does the president have on the economy?

Although presidential candidates usually make a lot of economic promises, their ability to fulfill them is somewhat limited. Much depends on factors outside of the president's control, such as the state of the economy when they take office or national and global events that occur during their time in office. Presidents can impact the economy through things like budget decisions, tariffs, Federal Reserve appointments, and influencing Congress, but many of these policies have a delayed impact on the economy.

How long does it take for a president to affect the economy?

The president has a more limited effect on the economy during their first year in office. Although they submit a budget request to Congress in February, a new president's first budget doesn't take effect until that October.

How do presidents create jobs?

Presidents alone can't create jobs, but they can influence Congress and the Fed to enact policies that will stimulate job growth. Examples of job-creating policies include lowering interest rates, spending on public works, increasing unemployment benefits, and some payroll tax cuts.

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