The fact that the United States lost a staggering 2.8 million jobs in the last decade due to its huge trade imbalance with China puts fresh pressure on President Obama and Congress to deal with China’s undervalued currency, a top labor leader says.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington released a report Tuesday, which finds an alarming impact of the growing trade deficit on American workers since China’s ascension to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.
According to the EPI report, the growing U.S. trade deficit with China has cost jobs in every one of the nation’s congressional districts, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Between 2001 and 2010, the computer and electronic parts industry was hit the hardest, as more than 909,400 jobs were displaced, the report says. The rapidly growing number of imports of computer and electronic parts, including semiconductors and audio-video equipment, accounted for more than 44 percent of the $194 billion increase in the U.S. trade deficit with China during that time.
“We need to aggressively enforce U.S. trade laws, and we must make the development of good jobs our highest priority issue for every member of Congress and every candidate for public office, including those campaigning to be president,” says Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union. “High unemployment, much of it caused by the loss of manufacturing jobs nationwide, requires immediate urgent action, including further action on China’s manipulation of its currency.”
The report, written by Robert Scott, EPI’s director of trade and manufacturing policy research in Washington, cites illegal currency manipulation as a major cause of the rapidly growing U.S. trade deficit with China. Unlike other currencies, the Chinese Yuan does not fluctuate freely against the dollar, but is artificially pegged in order to boost China’s exports to us and harm our ability to export to their consumers.
“USW members have been calling on their congressional members to support bills to address the China currency issue. The Chinese Yuan is more undervalued today than it was a year ago, making U.S. exports to them more costly, while their imports unfairly compete with our manufactured products,” says Gerard.
The Obama administration has designated China’s currency as undervalued — but thus far has stopped short of naming China as a currency manipulator. Such designation would be a first step toward bringing action against China for its currency policy.
Gerard warns President Obama that if he won’t name China a currency manipulator, then Congress will have no choice but to pass legislation that will hold the Chinese accountable.
The 10 states that suffered the biggest net losses were California (454,600 jobs), Texas (232,800), New York (161,400), Illinois (118,200), Florida (114,400), North Carolina (107,800), Pennsylvania (106,900), Ohio (103,500), Massachusetts (88,600) and Georgia (87,700). These losses comprise more than 2.2 percent of total employment.
“Global trade in advanced technology products—often discussed as a source of comparative advantage for the United States—is instead dominated by China,” the report concludes.
A total of 453,100 jobs were lost or displaced from 2008 to 2010 alone—even though imports from China and the rest of world collapsed in 2009 during the height of the global financial crisis. In fact, the report notes the U.S. trade deficit with China increased $8 billion during the great recession, despite a collapse in world trade at that time.
The report cites other industrial sectors hit hard due to the growth in the trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2010, including apparel and accessories (178,700 jobs), textile fabrics and products (92,300), fabricated metal products (123,900), plastic and rubber products (62,000), motor vehicles and parts (49,300), and miscellaneous manufactured goods (119,700).
China’s currency manipulation, state-owned enterprises, heavy industrial subsidies, intellectual property theft and piracy, indigenous innovation policies, rare earth mineral export restrictions and other trade-distorting practices have caused China’s share of the total U.S. non-oil goods trade deficit to soar from 69.6 percent in 2008 to 78.3 percent in 2010.
“Unless China raises the real value of the Yuan by at least 28.5 percent and eliminates other trade distortions,” the report concludes, “the U.S. trade deficit and job losses will continue to grow rapidly.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.