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As a candidate, President Donald Trump made trade fairness a signature issue, criticizing countries like China for "dumping" artificially cheap steel in U.S. markets and blaming the practice for a loss of American jobs.
One day before Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in April, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill issued a news release urging president Trump to address the issue of steel dumping.
McCaskill backed up her comments by saying, "Due to the recent downturn in steel production, more than 13,600 Americans have been laid off and the steel industry is facing billions in losses."
Those are some big numbers McCaskill threw out there, so we set out to see if they were accurate. What we found may be worse than what McCaskill originally thought.
Jobs are going away
The first part of Sen. McCaskill’s statement, "More than 13,600 Americans have been laid off," is accurate. When PolitiFact Missouri asked McCaskill’s office for the supporting data, her press secretary offered a spreadsheet from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website tracking the amount of steel mill jobs on a monthly basis.
Her press secretary said the 13,600 figure was between January 2015 and May 2016.
In January 2015, 153,500 Americans were employed in steel mills. By May 2016, that number had fallen to 139,900.
But it’s important to note that the loss of steel jobs in America isn’t a recent trend. In fact, more than 20,000 steel jobs have been lost in the U.S. since the start of 2007. Historical data paint a grim picture of the state of steel jobs in America.
According to the BLS, all "primary metals" jobs have dropped from 688,000 in 1990 to just 379,000 by March of 2017. In other words, in the past 27 years, nearly half of the metal-related jobs in America have been eliminated.
Why are jobs disappearing?
A common reason offered as to why steel jobs are leaving is that countries, primarily China, participate in "steel dumping." Dumping is when a country sells goods outside its home market for a cheaper rate than they are sold in the home country. Despite dumping being illegal since the 1940s, it remains an issue in the steel industry.
"We’ve seen pretty significant job loss, which we believe is attributable to the global trade problem," said Kevin Dempsey, the senior vice president for public policy at the American Iron and Steel Institute. "There’s a big crisis with massive steel overcapacity. High levels of imports have led to (U.S.) steel mills being shut down."
Dempsey said efforts to address the issue have been underway for some time. The issue was a hot topic at last year’s G20 summit. And a global forum on steel access capacity meets on a regular basis as it tries to stop the "underlying policy problems" facing the country, according to Dempsey. Trump is expected to sign an executive order barring steel dumping.
"It’s really tough going because no country wants to bear all the pain of that," Dempsey said. "China is reluctant to make changes, but we’re going to continue on pressing to change that."
What kind of shape is the steel industry in?
The second part of McCaskill’s claim states: "The steel industry is facing billions in losses." While McCaskill’s press secretary did not offer data on the profit losses of the steel industry, our own research paints a dark picture.
Steel dumping has crushed the profits of the U.S. steel industry. Low demand and large debt burdens are also challenging domestic producers.
US Steel revenues went from $17.5 billion in 2014 to $11.5 billion in 2015. Revenue declined 13 percent at Steel Dynamics. Labor relations problems cut Allegheny Technologies’ bottom line in 2015. The list of companies that have lost significant money in the steel industry goes on and on.
McCaskill said, "Due to the recent downturn in steel production, more than 13,600 Americans have been laid off and the steel industry is facing billions in losses." Both parts of the senator’s statements have been proven accurate as forces like steel dumping have led to job cuts and billions of dollars of losses in America. We rate McCaskill’s statement True.
Interview with Kevin Dempsey, VP of Public Policy at the American Iron and Steel Institute
Steel mill jobs since 2007, as provided by Senator McCaskill’s press secretary via the Bureau of Labor Statistics
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