When Trump talks about the economy, manufacturing and fossil fuel production usually take first billing, followed by construction—the target of this week’s infrastructure proposals. He typically cites these industries to justify imposing trade barriers or abandoning trade deals, restricting immigration, and rolling back environmental regulations, particularly on energy production and the carbon emissions linked to climate change.
It’s far from certain Trump’s agenda will benefit these industries as uniformly as he claims. The federal International Trade Association has calculated that about one-fourth of manufacturing jobs are tied to exports, even more for key sectors including aerospace, computers, and chemicals. If Trump’s confrontational approach to trade provokes retaliation from other nations, those exports—and the jobs they support—could be lost. Likewise, Trump’s push to unravel former President Barack Obama’s agenda for confronting climate change may boost coal and oil production at the price of suppressing lower-carbon alternatives like solar, wind, natural gas, and nuclear power that already cumulatively employ far more people.
But even if you count Trump’s approach as an unqualified benefit for his favored industries, he’s still banking on sectors that have been shrinking for decades. The number of Americans working in manufacturing peaked in 1979 and is over one-third lower today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mining employment (mostly extracting oil, gas, and coal) peaked in 1982, and is over two-fifths lower now. Construction jobs haven’t fallen as sharply, but they peaked amid the housing bubble in 2006.
Measured as a share of all employment, Trump’s three favored industries have plummeted precipitously. In 1965, they provided about one in every three non-agricultural jobs. That fell to about one-in-four in 1983 and one-in-six in 2004. In May’s job report, manufacturing, mining, and construction accounted for fewer than one-in-seven jobs; the BLS projects that number will fall below one-in-eight by 2024. Trump is trying to move the economy with a lever a fraction of its size 50 years ago.
Job growth is now driven more by post-industrial occupations, which have more to lose from Trump’s agenda of “deconstructing” government at home and erecting barriers to immigrants and imports from abroad. Health care and education, and government at all levels, would face an employment squeeze from the budget cuts Trump is seeking. Business and professional services, from accounting to architecture, would have benefited from intellectual property protections and greater market access in the pan-Asian trade deal Trump jettisoned and the European deal treading water. Information technology and entertainment companies share those concerns. Travel and tourism firms fear that Trump’s confrontational immigration agenda (particularly his judicially-blocked temporary ban on entry from six Muslim-majority nations) will depress foreign visits to the U.S.