“The Trump administration has awarded more than $50 billion in new federal contracts to companies that continue to shutter U.S. factories as they seek cheaper labor abroad.”
— tweet by Indiana Democratic Party, Feb. 5
We spotted this tweet and followed a link to an opinion article that attacked President Trump for betraying American voters for failing to take action against companies that offshore U.S. jobs. The article, by Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of labor-backed Good Jobs Nation, cited a study by the group that included the statistic in the tweet.
We wondered about this claim, given that we had recently concluded that the president had “some bragging rights” to boast about companies returning jobs to the United States. Good Jobs Nation has promoted its study with tweets similar to the one above, labeling Trump as “Offshorer-in-chief.”
So let’s take a look at the study that formed the basis of the tweet.
The Good Jobs Nation report, titled “Broken Promise #2,” was issued in August. It noted that Trump had pledged on “day one” to stop companies from shipping jobs overseas. “It’s so easy to stop. It’s so easy,” he said at a campaign rally Nov. 7, 2016.
But the report, by George Faraday, legal and policy director for Good Jobs Nation, argues that the president has failed to crack down on companies that feast on big U.S. contracts and yet continue to ship some jobs overseas.
The Labor Department has a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), originally enacted in the 1960s to assist workers whose jobs were displaced by free trade agreements. Faraday studied the jobs certified as being shipped to another country and then crosschecked with data on federal contract awards posted on usaspending.gov. (Correction: an earlier version of this article said TAA dated to the enactment of North American Free Trade Agreement; there was a related program called the NAFTA Transitional Adjustment Assistance Program.)
He concluded that, as of June 8, major contractors had earned $52 billion contracts and had shipped more than 13,000 jobs offshore. Most of the list consists of 12 companies that received about $48 billion in contracts, with the biggest job losers led by General Motors, Boeing, United Technologies and Siemens.
In a recent blog post, Faraday provided updated numbers, as of Jan. 24: $115 billion in federal contracts and 15,000 jobs shipped overseas.
The overall numbers add up in the report and a spot check of the data indicates it is sound. (We have questions about the yearly rate data, putting Trump at a disadvantage, but that’s beyond the scope of this fact check.)
So what’s wrong? It provides only half of the picture.
We had noted before that data from the Reshoring Initiative shows that companies started to return jobs to the United States — or other countries invested in the United States — during the Obama administration, but the trend really started to pick up in 2017. About 73,000 jobs were brought to the United States in 2015, 113,000 in 2016 and 171,000 in 2017, Trump’s first year in office. That’s a gain of more than 50 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Looking at the TAA numbers, one sees a similar decline in workers who were certified as having lost jobs because they were shipped overseas. We calculated there were 126,165 lost in 2016, Obama’s last year in office, and then 85,482 lost in 2017 and 78,514 lost in 2018. Obama had two better years, in 2014 and 2015, but otherwise overall losses were higher in every other year of his administration — including 214,125 in 2010 and 244,617 in 2009.
Certainly the pattern of the past three years shows fewer jobs are being shipped overseas. Combined with more jobs being returned, that’s a pretty positive trend line.
“It’s an interesting point,” acknowledged Faraday, but he said the group was focused on the losses, not the gains. “We’re labor, and that how’s we see the world.” He said it was important that the jobs be returned to the communities that had lost them.
Faraday noted that the focus of the report was on companies that benefited from U.S. contracts. He said that Trump could have taken action, via an executive order, to punish companies that shipped jobs overseas but that the president had failed to do so. The top executives of five companies that had offshored jobs, according to the TAA data, were members of Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, which the president later disbanded.
Still, a number of companies on the list have also said they will bring jobs back from overseas or add jobs in the United States, according to news reports. AT&T, for instance, is listed in Faraday’s report as offshoring 270 jobs since Trump became president. Yet in 2017, the company announced an agreement with the Communications Workers of America to bring back 3,000 jobs that had been sent to Mexico. (The CWA, in a report in January, charged that the company has continued to close call centers in the United States and lay off workers.) “AT&T is abiding by our agreement for hiring in the Southwest, but still continues laying off workers and offshoring throughout the company,” said Beth Allen, a CWA spokeswoman.
The Pinocchio Test
As regular readers know, context is important. If the glass is half full, you can’t look at only the empty part. A more balanced presentation in the report would include the jobs that have been returned from overseas, not just the ones that are lost.
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