In 1980, around the time that globalization exploded and free trade agreements became more prevalent, the U.S. had 19.2 million manufacturing jobs. Since then, the sector's total employment has fallen to just 11.6 million as jobs are outsourced to low-wage nations, like Mexico and China.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law a piece of legislation designed to ease costs for U.S. manufacturers by reducing tariffs on raw materials and other component parts not readily available in America.
The Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. In the Senate, the bill passed unanimously with a roll call vote. In the lower chamber, only 43 lawmakers voted against the measure.
The president sought to portray the measure as part of his administration and congressional Democrats' commitment to restoring the nation's struggling manufacturing base.
"Throughout the 20th century, manufacturing was the ticket to a better life for generations of American workers," Obama said, according to The White House Blog. "It was the furnace that forged our middle class. But over time, the jobs dried up. Companies learned to do more with less, and outsourced whatever they could. Other nations didn't always live up to trade agreements and we didn't always enforce them."
Under the bill, U.S. manufacturers are forced to apply for a tariff reduction or suspension. The request are then reviewed by the Obama administration, two congressional committees and the U.S. International Trade Commission. If there is no domestic opposition, the relief will be granted. However, the suspensions are only temporary and can be restored if an American business begins manufacturing a product covered under the bill.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the measure would save U.S. companies $298 million over three years and reduce the federal deficit by $5 million over the next decade.
The bill will provide a badly needed boost to the nation's manufacturing sector, according to The National Association of Manufacturers, which claims it will boost output by $4.6 billion and create 90,000 jobs.
Despite the its obvious positives, Republicans, most of whom supported the legislation, still found a way to criticize the president and fellow Democrats. Their answer to reviving the nation's manufacturing base, however, is simply to pass more disastrous "free trade" agreements.
"If he were serious about reaching his goal, he could ask Democratic leaders in Congress to pass the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. Or the Panama Free Trade Agreement. Or the South Korea Free Trade Agreement," Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, wrote in a blog post. "As President Obama ignores these opportunities, other countries are taking advantage - at America's expense."
Free trade has proven to be an abject disaster for the American economy. Because they knock down trade barriers, free-trade agreements have forced Americans to compete with China's 113-million strong manufacturing workforce, each of whom averages a wage of 81 cents-per-hour, just three percent of what their U.S. counterparts pay, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mexico, whose 10.7-million industrial workers average just $2.92 per hour, is only slightly better.
Americans have not fared well when competing against Third World labor forces willing to work for a fraction of what U.S. manufacturing employees make. That competition -- if it can be called that -- has had an adverse effect on perhaps the most important sector of the nation's economy.
A vibrant manufacturing sector is vital to the nation's economy. The sector directly employs roughly 12-million Americans and indirectly supports another eight-million jobs domestically. The industry is responsible for 70-percent of the nation's Research and Development and 90-percent of new patent filings. And manufacturing represents 12-percent of gross domestic product and produces 60-percent of the nation's exports.
"The answer isn't to stop building things, to stop making things; the answer is to build things better, make things better, right here in the United States," the president said. "We will rebuild this economy stronger than before and at its heart will be three powerful words: Made in America."