"Can President Trump bring back Manufacturing jobs?" by Steve Hoover, Lauren Mucciolo, and Anjali Tsui; PBS NewsHour 2/21/2017
When Donald Trump announced a campaign stop in Erie, Pennsylvania in August, it seemed like an unusual move. The blue-collar community on the shores of Lake Erie had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. For decades, labor unions endorsed Democratic candidates and their members voted in step.
But the landscape in Erie was changing. Well-paying manufacturing jobs that once sustained families in the region were disappearing. Residents were leaving in search of better economic prospects.
General Electric Transportation, once Erie's largest employer, began the election year by shedding 1,500 of the 4,500 jobs at its locomotive plant that paid, on average, a comfortable $34 an hour. Over the past three years, the company had gradually shifted production to a non-union facility in Fort Worth, Texas in an effort to minimize costs and keep up with global competition.
Erie, along with dozens of other manufacturing hubs along the Rust Belt, have seen seismic shifts as technology has quenched the demand for manual labor on factory floors. Companies like GE that once sustained the region have either cut jobs, or closed entirely, in recent years. Since 1990, Erie County has lost 16,000 manufacturing jobs, representing 44 percent of the industry there. In the year leading up to the election, unemployment in Erie rose from 5 percent to 7 percent.
The anxiety and excitement was palatable at the ice hockey arena when Trump took the stage in Erie. His calls to lower taxes and punish companies from leaving the United States were greeted with thunderous cheers. Bucking conventional wisdom about America's economy, Trump promised to renegotiate trade deals and “bring back” jobs that many economists say have been lost to automation.
“Erie has lost a lot, right?” Trump said. “Hang in, don't leave. I promise we can fix it so fast. We will stop these countries from taking our jobs. We will stop these countries from taking our companies.”
On Election Day, Trump defied expectations in Erie, taking a county that Barack Obama won by more than 19,000 votes in 2012, and winning it by around 2,000 votes. His victory in Pennsylvania was the first by a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. Trump also won other traditionally Democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin, propelled by voters from similar counties throughout the industrial heartland.
Trump's message resonated with small business owners like Joe and Sondralee Orengia. A champion power lifter, Joe manages Joe's Gym, while Sondralee operates Custom Audio, an electronics store. Both say they have seen fewer customers in recent years, and are excited about Trump's promise to return manufacturing jobs and revitalize the Erie economy.
“The Democratic Party's so strong here and then you get someone like Donald Trump who is really a very different candidate. I mean, we've never seen anything like him before,” Sondralee said. “I think a lot of people are fearful, especially the Democrats, but I think the people who voted for him, they're hopeful.”
Joe Orengia voted for Democratic candidates in the past, but registered as a Republican for the first time after reading Trump's book, “Crippled America: How to Make Our Country Great Again.” He showed his support by designing and selling “Pump for Trump” T-shirts that proudly displayed Trump's face superimposed onto a cartoon power lifter.
Orengia, who is 70 years old, grew up in the 1950s during the heyday of manufacturing, when more than half of Erie workers were employed in factories. After apprentice school, he worked as an ironworker and helped construct factory buildings for companies like GE and Hammermill Paper Company.
“I was one of their best climbers,” he said. “I always got the job of putting the buildings together, which was fun. You climb up the column, a big piece of steel comes up, you bolt it up, you walk out, unhook the cable and stand there and wait for the next piece.”
Hammermill, which was bought by International Paper Company, shut its Erie factory in 2002. Many buildings that Orengia helped to build have been torn down.
“They were some of the best years of my life working down there, putting them up. They are gone and the people are gone,” he said.
Frontline "Betting on Trump: Jobs" (10:17)
"Erie longs for its manufacturing past, but what's the future?" PBS NewsHour 2/22/2017
IMHO: Sorry folks, manufacturing of the '50s and '60s are gone and NOT coming back. You now live in the high-tech world which means production with fewer people aka fewer jobs. You need to upgrade your job skills for the new world.
SUMMARY: Erie County, Pennsylvania, has long been a manufacturing center, but jobs have been declining since the 1970s. In collaboration with the NewsHour and Marketplace, Frontline offers a look at the hopes and hardships in regions that voted for President Trump. Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Douglas Holtz-Eakin of American Action Forum talk more with Jeffrey Brown.