Michael Smith is not used to stretching a paycheck. As recently as March 2015, the 42-year-old was earning nearly $100,000 a year as a district manager on oil fields for company based in Union City, Pa. Then oil prices dropped, and his company laid him off.
Smith, a father of four boys, now makes $12 an hour as an apprentice electrician. He is not a die-hard disciple, but voted for Donald Trump because he’s desperate for something new.
“Do I think Donald Trump is what this country needs and do I think he will make it great again? No,” Smith said. “Do I think he is a step in the right direction? Absolutely.”
It was not poor Americans who made the difference in this election; it was people like Smith. Trump soared among white voters who earn decent wages, but have seen their pay decline and jobs in their industries disappear over the past 15 years.
But it will be almost impossible for Trump to fulfill his promise to bring back most of the assembly line gigs lost to globalization, economists say. The U.S. has moved toward advanced manufacturing, which employs highly educated people, and plants that once required manual labor are now manned by robots that work faster than people and cost less. U.S. factories are producing more than ever, with far fewer employees.
Since 2000, American manufacturers wiped 5 million people off their payrolls, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Millions of those jobs went to China or Mexico, research suggests.
For context, it took more than three decades for 560,000 mining jobs to disappear, after reaching a peak of 1.2 million the early 1980s.
The shock of losing so many middle-class jobs so quickly hit hardest in the Rust Belt states, which were crucial to Trump’s victory. Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania had among the steepest cuts in assembly line jobs across the country since 2000.
[T]he biggest losers after California were Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, which hemorrhaged a combined 1.2 million manufacturing jobs. That means that about a quarter of the total manufacturing job loss in the country since 2000 occurred in those four swing states.
Economists say that people like Germonto were already in trouble. Automation has been steadily decimating assembly line jobs, and as new plants come back to the U.S. they are increasingly staffed by robots.
Germonto, the former gear box inspector, said he didn’t vote on race issues, but they were on his mind.
“More people are hating on white Americans than any other race or any other walk of life,” he said. “I think white America is fed up with that.”
In reality, there isn’t a politician in the country who could turn things around for manual laborers in this country, economists say. Manufacturing output in the U.S. — the amount that we produce — reached a record high this year, after tanking during the recession.
But jobs have only trickled back, and the ones that are appearing aren’t going to women and men who work with their hands — they’re going to highly educated engineers, programmers and MBAs.
“There is a reallocation away from traditional manufacturing, toward parts of manufacturing that are more intensive in tech and in human capital,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at UC Berkeley. “Automation keeps reducing the need for blue-collar positions."
Still, many of Patterson’s former coworkers sided with Trump, because he said the right things, often and loudly.
“They hear it, it sounds good, and if they don’t have anything to base it on, well, that was what they have been waiting to hear,” Patterson said.
The take away? These people voted to undermine our nation's constitutional form of government based on promises that can never be realized. Trump played them for fools, played to their racism and bigotry and will leave them lying in the gutter. The real questions is this: when will they realize that they were played, and what will they do once that realization sets in?