Jewish World Review May 4, 2004 / 13 Iyar, 5764
Labor issues getting some much-needed attention
A national debate on the importance of the American worker has begun. The debate includes many issues: the outsourcing of American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets, the wholesale exodus of American manufacturing plants and jobs overseas, and a chronic, crushing trade deficit that has turned this country into a debtor nation.
At the center of the debate are the working men and women of this country, and the hardest hit among them have been workers in manufacturing.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., held a roundtable to discuss the issue.
"Since taking office, President Bush has lost 2.8 million good-paying manufacturing jobs and continues to lose more every month," Pelosi said. "One million jobs have been shipped overseas. And manufacturing employment is at a 53-year low."
It's unfortunate that the debate is framed in polemics and partisanship, but if that is the price of an important national dialogue, then it's worth the rancor.
Pelosi and Daschle were joined by several members of Congress, as well as the governors of three states hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania and Michigan both lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2003, while Wisconsin lost approximately 70,000 manufacturing jobs over that span.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said that by not acting against unfair international trade, the United States has become "the laughingstock of the global community." Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell said that while his state has worked to prevent the loss of manufacturing jobs, the Bush administration has failed to properly support those efforts.
Manufacturing has been the backbone of the American economy for decades. But we've allowed this critical sector to severely deteriorate. A new study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that our rising national trade deficit has been a crucial component in our country's loss of manufacturing jobs. Other research estimates that roughly 30 percent of the manufacturing jobs lost since Bush took office were the result of an increase in the trade deficit.
Trade imbalances also have a negative impact on the remaining manufacturing labor force. According to research from the Center for National Policy, increased imports lead to a modest decline in manufacturing wages, while an increase in exports leads to a modest increase in wages. Unfortunately, imports into our market have increased, while the percentage of U.S. production exported has fallen by about 1 percent in recent years. President Bush is, in fact, the first American president to preside over a decline in exports since the Great Depression.
Now, several governors are pressing both the Bush administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to take action.
"We want Congress to enact the Crane-Rangel-Manzullo bill that gives tax breaks to American manufacturers who manufacture here," Rendell told me. "The administration should get behind it immediately."
Rendell contends that the United States must become much more aggressive with the World Trade Organization.
"We heard from the secretary of commerce today that they are going to hire Elliott Ness-type prosecutors to ratchet up the heat on the World Trade Organization, and maybe that's good news," Rendell said.
This is absolutely good news. The United States must do everything it can to prevent further hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and further expansion of our trade debt. Free trade at all costs is no longer affordable to the American worker and the nation.
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