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Shifting Blame for Manufacturing Job Loss: Effect of Rising Trade Deficit Shouldn't Be Ignored

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Many economic observers have recently exonerated international trade flows for the hemorrhaging job losses in the manufacturing sector of the United States, generally claiming that either changing demand patterns or rapid productivity growth are the cause of manufacturing's decline. But the evidence shows that trade imbalances in manufacturing have accounted for 59% of the decline in manufacturing employment since 1998.

The manufacturing sector lost more than three million jobs between 1998 and 2003, with 2.7 million lost since the immediate pre-recession year of 2000. Roughly coinciding with this manufacturing employment loss, the trade deficit in manufactured goods increased by over $230 billion. The synchronicity of large-scale manufacturing job loss and growing trade deficits has led to a debate about whether international trade flows have contributed to the loss of manufacturing jobs.