By the time you read this, President Donald Trump might finally have accepted reality and conceded the election. Or, there might be a coup or a zombie apocalypse; it’s been that kind of year.
Assuming President-elect Joe Biden does take office, he will have his work cut out for him, at least from a manufacturing standpoint.
Since the end of the Great Recession, U.S. manufacturing jobs increased steadily, from 11.5 million in December 2009 to 12.9 million in November 2019. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. In just five months, we lost nearly 1.4 million jobs. Fortunately, that trend began reversing in May, and the sector has recovered 54 percent of those jobs through October. It’s a start, but there’s a lot of work yet to do.
Biden will need to reverse the effects of Trump’s disastrous trade war. Our trade deficit with the rest of the world—the difference between the amount of goods and services we export and those we import—is near historic highs. In August, for example, the deficit topped $67 billion, the second highest monthly total ever, just after $68 billion in August 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2009 to 2016, our annual trade deficit averaged $687.4 billion. From 2017 to 2019, it averaged a whopping $839.6 billion. To be fair, U.S. exports are up, averaging $1.61 billion in the past three years, compared with $1.52 billion from 2014 to 2016. However, despite tariffs, we are importing more than ever.
Biden will also need to address the domestic aerospace industry, which has traditionally been one of the country’s strengths in the global economy. The pandemic has greatly curtailed air travel, forcing aerospace OEMs and suppliers to cut production and thousands of jobs as orders dry up. For Boeing, the financial difficulty has been amplified by the grounding of the 737 Max since March 2019. Fortunately, the plane is close to regaining certification.
Stopping the pandemic will go a long way to fixing these problems. Manufacturers could also be helped by improving our nation’s infrastructure, investing in workforce training, and continuing regulatory improvements. All of which will require bold action, innovative thinking and, dare we say it, cooperation among our political leaders. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?