Job losses from trade

International trade’s impact on job losses is among the issues brought up by presidential candidates. Critics say the trade deals of the last two decades have cost the nation millions of jobs. Supporters counter that the trade deals have opened foreign markets to U.S. companies. Who’s right? NC State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“Actually I would argue that both are right. We clearly have seen some sectors in our economy, particularly in the technology and services sector, benefit from opening up international trade. For example, here we have some major technology companies in North Carolina, in particular in the Triangle, we’ve seen their sales to foreign markets dramatically improve. But at the same time we’ve had other industries suffer, particularly in manufacturing.

“And here in North Carolina, of course, a sector that has suffered mightily is the textile and apparel sector. Employment in those two sectors is down 200,000 in the last two decades, which actually spans the time we’ve had more open, international trade, and this has especially hard hit rural and small town areas.

“So we do have this mix of people and sectors that have benefited and people and sectors that have lost.

“I think what’s been missing over the last 20 years when we’ve had more open free trade is somehow programs that would allow those who benefit to give up a few of those benefits to help those who have lost, particularly in terms of helping folks who have lost their jobs retrain for new jobs. We have some very minor programs that do that, but we’ve not had anything on a massive scale. Hence, I think, we are left with this mix of satisfaction and dissatisfaction about international trade.”