Imports and jobs

Over the last two decades, even before the recession, job growth has been slower in the United States than it was in earlier years. Some say that’s been the result of foreign imports. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden considers the evidence.

We do have evidence; in fact, we have a great new comprehensive study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is actually a private economic think tank. It suggests that the growth of world trade since particularly 2000 … and the increase in imports from that trade into the U.S. had a negative effect, particularly in some states and some sectors, on jobs.

“Now a lot of people are going to say: ‘Duh, I know this.’ Well, it’s always good to have what you think is happening documented by a study like this. And what this study found is that between 1999 and 2011, the increase in imports coming into the U.S. resulted in a reduction of between 2 and 2.4 million jobs nationwide.

“Now, a lot of those were in North Carolina because, as people know, in our state textiles used to be a very, very large industry employing upwards of a half million workers. It’s down to about 90,000 now. Clearly, we lost a lot of textiles jobs because of cheaper imports coming in to the U.S.

“Now the study also does say, however, that we should remember that many of these imports were less expensive. That’s why people bought them. So consumers who didn’t lose their jobs were actually benefiting, and that freed up money for them to spend on other things.

“So actually that loss of 2 to 2.4 million jobs that I noted was a net loss after accounting for the increase in these other jobs. So, this has definitely had a profound effect on our economy and continues to have an effect.”

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