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Trump's big reelection weapon: A remarkable manufacturing jobs boom

In the summer of 2016, few believed then-candidate Donald Trump could make good on his promise to bring back some of the millions of manufacturing jobs that had been lost during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

At a PBS town hall, President Obama went so far as to mock Trump’s commitment to manufacturing. “What magic wand do you have?” Obama said. 

What Obama and others in the Democratic Party didn’t understand – and judging by the rhetoric coming from the current batch of presidential candidates, still don’t understand – is that you don’t need a magic wand to grow the economy. All that is required are policies that give individuals and businesses more power to operate freely and that limit efforts by inept, greedy government bureaucrats in Washington to meddle and manipulate markets they don’t fully understand.

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Over the course of Trump’s three years in office, he has kept his pledge to spur economic growth by reducing government intrusions. By the White House’s count, President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE has signed 16 pieces of legislation meant to deregulate various aspects of the economy, and his administration has slashed an average of 8.5 regulations for every new regulation passed. 

Trump also championed congressional Republicans’ 2017 tax reform legislation, which cut the corporate tax rate to 21 percent, reduced income taxes for the vast majority of Americans and altered the tax code to make it easier for businesses to invest in capital.

These efforts have led to historic economic growth. In Trump’s first three years, more than seven million full-time jobs have been added. To put that into perspective, only 2.45 million jobs were gained from 2007 – the height of employment under the Bush administration – to the end of the Obama era in early 2017.

Additionally, unemployment rates in 2019 for African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and women were at or near all-time lows.

Although these important economic gains have been important and far-reaching, they were not nearly as surprising as the improvements in manufacturing jobs made under the Trump administration.

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Since January 2017, more than 480,000 manufacturing jobs have been added to the U.S. economy, following two decades of sharp losses.

In President Clinton’s final three years in office, more than 430,000 manufacturing jobs were lost — declines that immediately carried over and expanded under the Bush administration, which experienced millions of manufacturing job losses, even before the 2008 crash.

Roughly 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost during the eight years of the Obama administration, including minor losses in Obama’s final year in office.

In terms of the percentage of manufacturing job increases, the gains made thus far under the Trump administration surpass the performance in the first term of every president since the 1970s.

And, perhaps most importantly for Trump’s chances for victory in 2020, many of these gains have occurred in important swing states. Under Trump, manufacturing job increases have ramped up significantly in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin — all of which are key states for Democrats’ 2020 strategy.

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Even more vital for Trump is the manufacturing job increases in Pennsylvania, a state that Democrats almost certainly must win to have any chance of success in November. Under Obama, Pennsylvania lost manufacturing jobs in both of his terms — more than 45,000 in total. But since Trump entered the White House, Pennsylvania has gained nearly 23,000 jobs in manufacturing, a stunning reversal of the state’s long-term trend.

It turns out that you don’t need incantations or even a “magic wand” to improve manufacturing job growth. You do, however, need public policies in place that promote U.S. businesses, instead of punishing them with ever-higher taxes, regulations, and mandates.

President Trump understands this reality, and he’s poised to reap the benefits in 2020 as a result.

Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is the editorial director and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank based in Arlington Heights, Ill., that focuses on social, economic and environmental issues and promotes free-market policies. Follow him on Twitter @JustinTHaskins.