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Donald Trump focused a campaign rally in Harrisburg Thursday on bringing back manufacturing jobs to a state that’s lost more than many others in the past decade.
The presidential frontrunner bolstered his point by telling thousands of supporters at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex: "Pennsylvania has lost 35 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2001" and later added that Harrisburg, the state capital, "has lost 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2001."
That seemed like a large percentage of jobs lost. So we decided to check the claim.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pennsylvania lost nearly 300,000 manufacturing jobs since January 2001, decreasing from 856,200 to 564,900 in the span of 15 years. That correlates with a 34 percent decrease in jobs lost -- quite close to Trump’s 35 percent claim.
However, the job loss in Harrisburg is off. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the Harrisburg metropolitan area had 30,500 manufacturing jobs in January 2001 and now is home to 21,400. That’s a decrease of 30 percent, not 40 percent as Trump claimed Thursday.
His campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Trump was right when he told supporters in Harrisburg that Pennsylvania has been among the hardest hit in the country by a loss in manufacturing jobs. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C., reported last year that eight states lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 1998 -- Pennsylvania came in seventh behind California, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Michigan and Illinois.
That job loss is significant for a state that, in 2013, employed 10 percent of its job force in the manufacturing sector and made 12 percent of its gross domestic product from the industry. Major hubs of manufacturing the state were, at one point, steel mills in western Pennsylvania, Bethlehem, and the shipyard in South Philadelphia. The size of those industries has largely decreased since their heyday.
Kevin L. Kearns, president of the United States Business and Industry Council, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents mid-sized manufacturing companies, said manufacturing job loss since 2001 can be chalked up to globalization and the proliferation of the use of robotics in manufacturing.
He said thousands of jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector to technology. But the companies his organization represented that shut down in the last decade didn’t do so because of technology -- they did it because other companies in their supply chain had outsourced to other countries.
Kearns said the impact of manufacturing job loss has an impact on every corner of the Pennsylvania economy, as people who were once middle class are now either jobless or in other industries that may not pay as well, causing them to spend less in other ways.
"In a generalized way, it means that people in Pennsylvania are earning less money," he said. "It has a massive footprint and a massive ripple effect."
In an attempt to show Pennsylvanians he would work to bring back jobs, Trump said "Pennsylvania has lost 35 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2001" and "Harrisburg has lost 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2001."
The figure about the statewide manufacturing job loss checks out, but his claim about Harrisburg losing 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2001 is off by about 10 percent. We rate the claim Mostly True.
Phone interview. Kearns, Kevin. President, United States Business and Industry Council. April 22, 2016.
Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. State and Area Employment, Hours, and Earnings. Accessed April 22, 2016.
Study, Economic Policy Institute. "The Manufacturing Footprint and the Importance of U.S. Manufacturing Jobs." Jan. 22, 2015.
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