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Tom Perez Chairman of the Democratic National Committee speaks before the Oct. 15, 2019, presidential debate.  (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) Tom Perez Chairman of the Democratic National Committee speaks before the Oct. 15, 2019, presidential debate.  (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Tom Perez Chairman of the Democratic National Committee speaks before the Oct. 15, 2019, presidential debate. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Mica Soellner
By Mica Soellner October 18, 2019

DNC off on Trump, Wisconsin manufacturing jobs

If there’s one thing President Donald Trump can’t get enough of, it’s reminding the American people about the economy. 

And nearly three years into his presidency, it seems like his favorite topic is jobs. 

In 2016, Trump ran on promises to create millions of jobs and bring back work to traditional American blue-collar industries such as steel, manufacturing and coal mining. 

But the Democratic National Committee says the opposite has happened with manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- two states Trump narrowly carried over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

"Trump promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- that hasn’t happened," the DNC claimed in a Sept. 20, 2019 post on the "War Room" section of its website. "Instead, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have lost the most manufacturing jobs in the past year." 

Are they right?

Let’s dig into the numbers.

The jobs picture

The DNC "War Room" is a rapid response operation that writes quick statements based on opposition research against Trump and GOP campaigns.

When asked to provide backup, Daniel Wessel, the deputy War Room director, essentially repeated the claim from the site and pointed us to a Sept. 20, 2019 Bloomberg news report about the loss of factory jobs. The article noted Wisconsin and Pennsylvania led the nation, but took the same one-year approach from August 2018 to August 2019.

Using raw numbers, the two states did indeed have the biggest loss of manufacturing jobs from August 2018 to August 2019, according to a state employment survey released by the Labor Department. Wisconsin lost about 5,200 seasonally adjusted jobs, while Pennsylvania lost around 7,700.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in an Oct. 10, 2019, article that Wisconsin’s manufacturing job loss was the largest year-over-year decline since the last recession. 

Case closed?

Not exactly.

First, on a percentage basis, other states had larger losses. 

Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Maryland all lost a larger share of manufacturing jobs from August 2018 to August 2019. (Though, we should note, those states combined have fewer manufacturing jobs than either Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.)

More importantly, in arguing Trump is not fulfilling his promise as it relates to manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the DNC is using a narrow set of numbers -- a single year’s worth. But the president has been in office for nearly three years.

So, the DNC went cherry-picking and, not surprisingly, found a cherry.

The longer-range jobs picture is more complex.

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Consider: The government’s latest jobs report showed 2,000 manufacturing jobs were lost nationally in September 2019, compared to 18,000 jobs added in September 2018. 

Meanwhile, for all of 2018, there was an average increase of about 22,000 jobs per month. Through the first nine months of 2019, the increase has been about 5,000 jobs per month. 

In short, there’s been an uptick of manufacturing jobs under Trump -- an increase of about 373,000 jobs -- despite the current slowdown.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: The longer view

All told, Wisconsin has about 472,000 manufacturing jobs while Pennsylvania has about 562,000.

From January 2017, when Trump took office, until August 2019, Wisconsin went from about 465,000 manufacturing jobs to 472,000 -- an increase of 1.5%.

Pennsylvania had about 561,000 manufacturing jobs when Trump took office. As of August 2019, the state sat at slightly over 562,000 jobs, a 0.2% increase. 

So both states have actually seen an increases in these jobs, albeit modest ones.

Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University, said manufacturing jobs have been in decline over the Midwest for most of the past year due to the ongoing trade war with China.

"The trade war is both directly contributing to this by increasing the costs of production and by causing supply chain disruptions which reduce demand for exported goods," Hicks said. 

Hicks said that leads to factory job losses.

The even bigger picture

Sometimes, where you end up depends on where you begin.

Consider Barack Obama’s tenure, when manufacturing jobs faced an ebb and flow largely due to the turbulent economy.

When Obama took office in January 2009, the nation had 12.6 million manufacturing jobs. This was in the midst of the Great Recession, which led to a low point of 11.5 million manufacturing jobs -- a loss of some 900,000 -- roughly a year later, in February 2010.

So, if you measured just that window, you’d get a worse picture than if you looked at Obama’s full term.

But from February 2010 until Obama left office in January 2017, there was an increase of more than 900,000 manufacturing jobs, hitting a total of 12.4 million.

It was an overall loss, as PolitiFact National has noted, of about 192,000 manufacturing jobs. But much smaller than if you pulled out a single year. 

Our rating

The DNC claims Trump is breaking a campaign pledge to bring manufacturing jobs back to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania since the two states "have lost the most manufacturing jobs in the past year."

We found data from the Labor Department showing Wisconsin and Pennsylvania lost the most jobs over the last year compared to the rest of the country, at least in raw numbers. 

But they weren’t the worst on a percentage basis. And the two states have seen a modest uptick in manufacturing jobs since Trump took office. So it’s not accurate to use that cherry-picked data as evidence Trump has broken his promise on growing manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The definition for Mostly False is "The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That’s what we rate this claim.

Our Sources

Democratic National Committee, Trump Promised To Bring Jobs Back To Pennsylvania And Wisconsin — They’ve Lost The Most This Year, Sept. 19, 2019

The Hill, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin lost the most factory jobs in the past year: report, Sept. 20, 2019

Bloomberg, Two U.S. Swing States Lost the Most Factory Jobs in Past Year, Sept. 20, 2019

Market Watch, Opinion: Factory jobs are again shrinking in industrial Midwestern states, Oct. 1, 2019

Wisconsin State Journal, Uncertainty growing in Wisconsin's manufacturing sector as survey finds job cuts, Oct. 10, 2019

E-mail exchange with Daniel Wessel, DNC Deputy War Room Director on Oct. 8, 2019

E-mail exchange with Kate Bronfenbrenner, professor at the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, on Oct. 14, 2019

E-mail exchange with Charles Engel, economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on Oct. 14, 2019

Bureau of Labor Statistics, State employment survey September 2019

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Highlights Statistics, September 2019

The New York Times, Trump has a strong economy to proclaim. In Wisconsin, it just might work. May 11, 2019

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Mica Soellner

DNC off on Trump, Wisconsin manufacturing jobs

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