September 7, 2018
By Alan Tonelson
This is getting just embarrassing. Economists and mainstream media reporters and pundits keep claiming that President Trump’s metals tariffs are already damaging the U.S. economy – and especially industries that heavily use the steel and aluminum that have become more expensive because of the levies on imports of those goods. (Here’s a new example.)
And the most authoritative data available keep demonstrating that these claims so far are absolute hokum. (See this RealityChek column for a summary and relevant links.) The latest evidence: this morning’s August jobs report from the Labor Department. It shows emphatically that those metals-using sectors have mainly created net new jobs at a faster pace than domestic manufacturing overall, and that several have boosted payrolls more rapidly than the entire private sector (including service industries that are not heavy metals users).
Here are the numbers showing the relevant rate of employment changes from April (the first full month in which the metals tariffs were in effect) through both July (where they stood as of the previous monthly jobs report) and through August:
thru July thru August
entire private sector: +0.53 percent +0.64 percent
overall manufacturing: +0.73 percent +0.47 percent
durable goods: +0.96 percent +0.57 percent
fabricated metals products: +1.10 percent +1.17 percent
non-electrical machinery: +1.43 percent +1.04 percent
automotive vehicles & parts: +1.06 percent -1.08 percent
household appliances (thru June): -0.63 percent +0.16 percent (thru July)
aerospace products & parts (thru June): +1.05 percent +2.03 percent (thru July)
There have been some shifts within this list. But with the exception of automotive, no metals-using sector has slacked off more than manufacturing as a whole, and three of these industries (fabricated metals products, appliances, and aerospace) have picked up the pace. And even the metals-using durable goods super-sector as a whole didn’t fade much more on the employment front than manufacturing overall.
In addition, yesterday’s official business investment numbers confirmed that, through July, new orders for core capital goods (such machinery and equipment minus demand for defense and the volatile numbers for aircraft) have now advanced sequentially for four straight months. Since “core capex” is rightly viewed as the economy’s best proxy for business’ confidence in its future prospects, these results stuck a new fork in the narrative that the Trump tariffs would vitiate such spending by boosting that predominant bugaboo of corporate planning – uncertainty.
The new jobs report did contain some disquieting news for domestic manufacturing. Payrolls fell on month in August (by 3,000) for the first time since July, 2017. And the revisions pretty much cut the previously reported impressive June and July gains in half. (The new July increase of 18,000 is still preliminary.)
But today’s employment release also made clear that, after several months of metals tariffs, the fears about their impact are no more than fears. Why is that not considered newsworthy?
Alan Tonelson is Founder of the blog RealityChek – www.alantonelson.wordpress.com – which covers a wide range of domestic and international policy issues along with political and social trends.
For 18 years before leaving to launch RealityChek, Tonelson followed the impact of globalization on the U.S. economy, domestic manufacturing, and U.S. national security for the U.S. Business and Industry Council. This national business organization represents nearly 2,000 domestic American companies, most of them small and medium-sized manufacturers.
Alan Tonelson is a regular columnist with Industry Today.