WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is working to revitalize manufacturing — even helping to bring factory jobs into Republican territory amid belief it can restore confidence in U.S. democracy.
The latest development came Tuesday, when chipmaker Micron announced an investment of up to $100 billion over the next 20+ years to build a plant in upstate New York that could create 9,000 factory jobs. It’s a commitment made in a GOP congressional district that Biden and the company attributed to the recently enacted $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act.
“Today is another victory for America and another massive new investment in America driven by my economic plan,” Biden said in a statement. “Together, we are building a bottom-up, middle-out economy where we bring costs down for our families and do it right here in America.”
Biden has staked his presidency on what he calls a “historic manufacturing boom,” hoping to succeed where previous presidents, governors, and hordes of other politicians have struggled for half a century. His goal is to keep opening new factories in states like Ohio, Idaho, North Carolina and Georgia — where Democrats’ footsteps are shaky at best. Government officials say they want to spread wealth across the country rather than concentrate it in centers of extreme wealth to rejuvenate the middle class and a sense of pride in the country itself.
The boost comes at a precarious time for the global economy. High inflation in the US has hurt Biden’s popularity and sparked fears of a recession. Much of Europe is facing a potential downturn due to soaring energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while the International Monetary Fund has just downgraded growth in China. The global economy is riddled with uncertainty, just as Biden has called for investments in clean energy and technology that could take years to pay back.
The President hopes that whatever good manufacturing can do for the US economy will also prove to be a political advantage for himself and fellow Democrats in 2022 and beyond. He told Democratic donors Friday that the investments in manufacturing and technology mean “we have an opportunity” to strengthen the US when Democratic governors and lawmakers are elected this year.
Ahead of the midterm election, Biden is telling voters that a factory renaissance has already begun because of him. The government sees its infrastructure spending, investment in computer chips and clean energy incentives as supporting domestic manufacturing in unprecedented ways.
Recent academic studies suggest that decades of offshoring layoffs contributed to the rise of Republican Donald Trump’s opposition to immigration and world trade. But many authors of the studies doubt that Biden can make these demographic trends disappear by promising skilled jobs.
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California would like the President to tour factory openings nationwide so his policies could be better remembered by voters. Khanna recently attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a $20 billion Intel plant in Ohio and expressed his belief that job losses at the plant contributed to today’s political divisions.
The Silicon Valley congressman argues that too many Americans have lost faith in a government that seemed indifferent to their own well-being, leading them to embrace peddlers and authoritarians who thrived on exploiting and magnifying divisions in society .
“How do you get people’s jobs away and expect them to believe in democracy?” asks Channa.
Factory jobs have risen to 12.85 million during Biden’s tenure, the highest since 2008, but the task of stabilizing the country’s middle class and its democratic institutions is far from over. The industrial Midwest has yet to reclaim the factory jobs shattered by the pandemic, not to mention decades of layoffs in which economic challenges turned into political tensions.
Labor Department data shows Ohio is still 10,000 factory jobs below its pre-pandemic level and 350,000 below its overall 2000 level. Similarly bad are the numbers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — three states that were key to Biden’s 2020 victory and could help decide control of Congress in November’s election.
The White House says Biden avoids viewing Americans as just consumers interested only in the cheapest prices, encouraging outsourcing. Instead, his speeches are interwoven with conversations about people as workers and the identity that work gives them.
What Biden has to show for this year’s groundbreaking is progress, even if total manufacturing jobs are unlikely to return to the 1979 peak of 19.55 million. Intel’s computer chip factory being built in New Albany, Ohio would create 3,000 jobs. Hyundai would create 8,100 jobs at its Georgia electric vehicle plant. Wolfspeed, which plans to make silicon carbide wafers in North Carolina, would create 1,800 jobs.
Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the increase in factory jobs reflects five years of efforts beginning with Trump’s 2017 tax cuts and including Biden’s investments in infrastructure and computer chips, as well as efforts to bring jobs back to the US after disruptions of the global supply chain due to the pandemic.
“There is a commitment from government at all levels to do more here and a desire from manufacturers to do more here,” Timmons said.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Daron Acemoglu welcomed the president’s plans to expand factory labor across the country. It’s too early to tell if the government will succeed, he said, but Biden is challenging economists’ once-conventional view that little can be done to expand factory work in the US
“I believe the President is right,” said Acemoglu, co-author of the book Why Nations Fail. “‘Good jobs’ that pay decent wages, offer job security, offer career opportunities and instill a sense of accomplishment and dignity are important for the middle class and for social cohesion.”
New academic research released in September suggests that the relocation of factory jobs made white men feel victimized and gave way to the rise of grievance policies that helped fuel Trump’s rise among Republican voters . This movement, in turn, has spawned election denial and political violence that Biden has repeatedly said is “a dagger in the throat of our democracy.”
The survey of 3,500 US citizens found that the loss of factory jobs to automation is less controversial among voters than offshoring, which prompted a “self-blame” among whites who “cited offshoring as a greater overall harm to people.” considered American economy and the position of the USA in the world.”
One of the study’s authors, McGill University’s Leonardo Baccini, still expects factory jobs to shrink, although a decline largely attributed to automation would be less damaging to Democratic candidates. He continues to believe that factory jobs will be lost over the long term as advanced economies focus more on productive services to sustain growth.
“From an economic perspective, the decline in US production is inevitable and actually a good thing,” Baccini said. “Any attempt to stop this structural change with protectionism and government subsidies is likely to backfire.”
J. Lawrence Broz, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego, co-authored a 2019 research paper that found that populist support was strongest in communities experiencing long-term economic and social decline, as opposed to the superstar cities where technology, finance and a highly skilled workforce were magnets for wealth.
“Recent efforts to reintroduce manufacturing jobs are unlikely to have the intended impact, either economically or politically,” Broz said. “The new factories will not employ large numbers of less-skilled workers, leaving white industrial workers as angry as they are now.”
That means the underlying test of Biden’s agenda may be whether enough workers can be trained to meet the needs of a manufacturing sector of higher standards than at the height of its dominance in the 20th century.