Just as he did throughout last year’s campaign, President Donald J. Trump promised the American people Tuesday night that his economic policies will create tens of thousands of new jobs.
And as he did in winning the Republican primary and the general election, Trump, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, skimmed over the reality of America’s job situation.
It’s a reality that many of his blue-collar, noncollege- educated supporters would rather not face.
However, it was clearly articulated during the GOP primary by Ohio Gov. John Kasich during his short-lived campaign, and by some of the CEOs of American manufacturing companies who met recently with President Trump.
The bottom line: There are plenty of openings today for U.S. factory jobs but too few qualified people to fill them.
That’s exactly the message Kasich delivered during the highly contentious Republican primary.
His consistent voice of reason on jobs was drowned out by Trump’s boisterous contention that American workers have been victimized by global trade.
He repeated that argument during his speech on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved, and we’ve lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001,” the president said. “Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly 800 billion dollars.”
He contended that 94 million Americans are out of the labor force, more than 43 million people are now living in poverty, and more than 43 million Americans are on food stamps.
Trump’s view of what has occurred in the American workplace resonates in old industrial regions like the Mahoning Valley where steel-making was once king. The closing of the mills more than three decades ago roiled the region’s economy and put thousands of workers on the unemployment line.
The president’s promise to resurrect manufacturing in America ignores a basic truth: The factories of today are nothing like those of the Valley’s industrial past when thousands of workers were able to earn a decent living with nothing more than a high-school diploma.
But the Trump administration heard manufacturing CEOs declare that things aren’t as simple as the president makes them out to be.
“The jobs are there, but the skills are not,” one executive said during meetings with White House officials that preceded a session with the president.
The CEOs urged the White House to support vocational training for high-tech skills that today’s manufacturers increasingly require.
White House officials said the president heard the manufacturing executives about a shortage of qualified workers and noted that he supports efforts to increase training for factory jobs.
It is ironic that the billionaire real-estate developer from New York City was able to win over so many voters in the Mahoning Valley with his promise of creating thousands of manufacturing jobs when there are local examples of what’s taking place in today’s factories.
As this writer has pointed out in several columns about Trump’s unrealistic view of the workplace, labor-intensive manufacturing facilities are a thing of the past.
The French company Vallourec spent more than $1 billion building a state-of-the-art steel pipe-making complex on land straddling Youngstown and Girard along Route 422.
Vallourec Star had around 400 employees at the start, and with the expansion of its operations the number has risen to about 550. The plant has felt the effects of the slowdown of oil and gas exploration in the U.S.
More familiar to residents of the Valley is the history of General Motors Lordstown car-making plant. There was a time when the assembly and fabricating plants and the paint shop employed more than 10,000 workers.
Today, there are slightly over 3,000 employees there producing the highly successful Chevrolet Cruze.
It is this reality that Donald Trump ignored during the campaign and continues to ignore as president.
Gov. Kasich attempted to frame the issue of jobs around what Ohio is experiencing today.
He pointed out that there are more than 100,000 private-sector positions that need to be filled immediately, but employers are unable to find qualified, experienced workers – who can also pass the drug test.
Some employers are so desperate to fill the jobs that they’re willing to pay for whatever education is needed and for on-the-job training.
Kasich’s contention that America’s workforce is lagging behind the advances in business and industry should have sparked a necessary debate during the primary election. It didn’t.
Instead, voters believed that a successful businessman who got his start with a large inheritance from his father had the answers to what ails America’s economy.
Here’s another question the president should address when he talks about forcing American corporations to bring back the thousands of jobs that have been sent abroad for cheap labor: What will the workers be paid?
A Page 1 story in last Sunday’s Vindicator about Delphi Packard Electric moving production from Warren to Mexico and China provides the following insight: A worker in the company’s plant in Juarez, Mexico, earns $1 an hour assembling cables and electronics that will eventually be installed in vehicles. A Warren resident who once did the same work was paid $30 an hour.
President Trump must know that simply talking about the thousands of jobs his economic policies will create won’t address the many challenges that confront today’s workplace.
Here’s what one company executive who participated in the White House meeting on manufacturing revealed: His company has 50 participants in a factory apprenticeship program, but could take 500 if enough people were qualified. But he said that in his experience, most students coming out of high school lack the math and English skills to absorb technical manuals.
It’s time to tell the truth about jobs in America.