Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks May 16, 2024, in front of Union Station in lower downtown Denver. (AP) Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks May 16, 2024, in front of Union Station in lower downtown Denver. (AP)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks May 16, 2024, in front of Union Station in lower downtown Denver. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson May 17, 2024
Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman May 17, 2024

Will Joe Biden’s new China tariffs “hit every family”?

If Your Time is short

  • President Joe Biden said the United States would impose new or higher tariffs on various Chinese goods, including electric vehicles, to target unfair trade practices by China and protect the United States’ competitiveness in manufacturing clean energy products and microchips.

  • There is widespread academic support for the notion that tariffs raise prices for consumers, and that lower-income consumers are hurt disproportionately.

  • Experts said the targeted nature of Biden’s tariffs should limit their impact on consumers.

President Joe Biden recently said the United States would sharply increase tariffs on some Chinese goods, including electric vehicles, semiconductors and solar panels.

The White House said the move — which echoes some of the trade-war agenda of Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump — aims to protect American industries’ competitiveness in the growing clean energy sector and curb unfair trade practices by China.

In a May 14 X post, Biden said he had "imposed a series of tariffs on goods made in China: 25% on steel and aluminum, 50% on semiconductors, 100% on EVs (electric vehicles), and 50% on solar panels. China is determined to dominate these industries. I'm determined to ensure America leads the world in them." And in remarks at the White House that day, he called the tariffs "strategic and targeted."

But not everyone approved. 

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, labeled the decision "horrible news for American consumers" and a "major setback for clean energy."

"Tariffs are a direct, regressive tax on Americans, and this tax increase will hit every family," Polis wrote as he reshared Biden’s post.

Is Polis right? 

Experts say the tariffs could amount to a tax increase on many Americans. But they add that the notion that "every" American family will be hit is likely exaggerated.

"When it comes to these specific tariffs, the short-term effects may be limited," said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "Very few Chinese-made electric vehicles are sold in the U.S. today, so there will be little direct effect. And Chinese aluminum and steel accounts for only a small fraction of US imports of those goods. … So the price effects will be small."

Polis’ office did not provide information for this fact-check.

Why Biden is imposing tariffs on about $18 billion of China’s imports

A tariff is a government tax imposed on goods and services imported from other countries. Countries often impose tariffs in the name of making their domestic companies more competitive with foreign counterparts; the tariffs either make the foreign items more expensive, putting them at a disadvantage in the marketplace, or they make foreign companies forgo entering the market at all.

Biden’s new round of tariffs apply to about $18 billion of annual imports from China, the White House said. Other Chinese goods that will face higher tariffs include batteries, battery components, certain minerals, cranes used at ports, certain medical products, steel and aluminum.

Under the new standard, the tariff rate for Chinese-produced electric vehicles will rise from 25% to 100% this year, while semiconductor tariffs will double from 25% to 50% by 2025. Tariffs on lithium-ion batteries, a key component of EVs, will increase from 7.5% to 25%. Tariffs on solar panels will rise from 25% to 50%. Tariffs on steel and aluminum will increase from 0% to 25%.

In pursuing the new tariffs, Biden has regularly accused China of flooding the global market with goods at what the White House calls "artificially low" prices. The White House says the Chinese government heavily subsidizes the nation’s companies, which allows Chinese competitors to overproduce because they don’t have to worry about turning a profit.

"When you make tactics like these, it's not competition, it's cheating, and we've seen the damage here in America," Biden said while announcing the tariffs at the White House Rose Garden.

Trump, Biden’s expected 2024 presidential opponent, also pursued an aggressive tariff policy during his presidency to reduce U.S. reliance on Chinese imports and narrow the trade deficit. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods totaled about $300 billion. Biden criticized those tariffs during his 2020 presidential run, arguing that they had little impact on consumers compared to the costs to Americans.

Who foots the bill for tariffs?

Polis’ first point is that tariffs amount to a tax on consumers. There’s significant evidence to support that.

Multiple studies, reports and economists have concluded that if tariffs are high enough, foreign companies will typically pass much of the added cost to consumers in the tariff-levying country. 

Featured Fact-check

After Trump imposed his tariffs, importers passed along most or all of the costs to consumers or to producers who use Chinese materials in their products, studies show. A U.S. International Trade Commission review found the tariffs were paid primarily by U.S. importers while prices for Chinese exporters were "largely unaffected."

"In general, tariffs are passed on to consumers," Gleckman said. "Not only do the prices of the tariffed goods usually increase, but so do prices of competing domestic products. Without low-priced foreign competition, domestic manufacturers are free to raise their own prices."

Another problem with tariffs, Gleckman said, is that they encourage producers to move production to a nontariffed country. "So Biden may be protecting U.S. automakers from China, but what about, say, Brazil or Mexico?" he said.

And because studies have shown that lower-income Americans tend to spend a larger fraction of their income on goods, they could feel the pinch from tariffs more acutely than more affluent Americans would, as Polis said.

"The consensus has not changed: Tariffs are regressive, in that the people with lowest means will be paying the most when a tariff is placed on a good," said Ross E. Burkhart, a Boise State University political scientist who specializes in trade policy.

How many Americans could be affected by the Biden tariffs?

However, Polis’ second point, that "every family" will be affected by the Biden tariffs, is exaggerated, experts said.

For starters, Burkhart said, electric vehicles "are still a niche product" that not every family will look to buy soon. And even within this niche market, Chinese EVs have almost no U.S. market share. According to the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, China shipped $368 million in EVs to the U.S. in 2023, a tiny fraction of the $7.4 billion shipped by European Union nations the same year.

Meanwhile, although steel, aluminum, and semiconductors are widely used throughout the economy, the new tariffs are levied narrowly at products from China, said Katheryn N. Russ, a University of California, Davis economist. 

"Most steel from China already is subject to high duties," Russ said. "The effect of a narrowly targeted tariff like this may be modest if producers can switch to suppliers in other countries, and domestic producers of these products still will be subject to price competition from other countries who are not facing a similar hike in the tariff."

In any case, such materials "tend to be small input prices of finished goods, and Chinese exports of both products to the U.S. are generally declining," said Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an advocacy group comprising U.S. manufacturers and the United Steelworkers. "In a $25 trillion economy these very targeted measures won’t even be felt in a meaningful way."

The White House is making much the same argument. In discussions with journalists during the run-up to announcing the new tariffs, Biden administration officials argued that their more targeted tariffs would be less likely to increase consumer prices — a crucial concern both economically and politically, given the high inflation during much of Biden’s term.

Our ruling

Polis called tariffs a "direct, regressive tax on Americans" and said Biden’s new tariffs on Chinese goods will "hit every family."

There is widespread academic support for the notion that tariffs raise prices for consumers, and that lower-income consumers tend to be hurt disproportionately.

However, experts said the targeted nature of Biden’s tariffs on China’s clean energy sector should limit their inflationary effect, making it unlikely that "every family" would be affected in a significant way.

We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, post on X, May 14, 2024

President Joe Biden post on X, May 14, 2024

White House, "Fact sheet: President Biden takes action to protect American workers and businesses from China’s unfair trade practices," May 14, 2024 

White House, "Remarks by President Biden on his actions to protect American workers and businesses from China’s unfair trade practices," May 14, 2024 

White House, "Background Ppess call by ational Economic Advisor Lael Brainard and Senior Administration Officials on President Biden’s actions to protect American workers and businesses from China’s unfair trade practices," May 13, 2024 

White House, "Press call by ational Economic Advisor Lael Brainard and senior administration officials previewing President Biden’s remarks on steel," April 16, 2024

The White House, "Press briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and U.S. trade tepresentative Katherine Tai," May 14, 2024

Mary Amiti, Stephen J. Redding and David Weinstein, "The impact of the 2018 Trade War on U.S. Prices and Welfare," March 2019 

Mary Amiti, Stephen J. Redding and David Weinstein, "Who's Paying for the US Tariffs? A Longer-Term Perspective," May 2020

Alberto Cavallo, Gita Gopinath, Brent Neiman and Jenny Tang, "Tariff Pass-Through at the Border and at the Store: Evidence from US Trade Policy," March 2021

Pablo D. Fajgelbaum, Pinelopi K Goldberg, Patrick J. Kennedy, and Amit K. Khandelwal, "The Return to Protectionism," Nov. 28, 2019

Tax Foundation, "Tracking the Economic Impact of U.S. Tariffs and Retaliatory Actions," July 7, 2023 

Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, "What Is A Tariff And Who Pays It?," Sept. 25, 2018

U.S. International Trade Commission, "Economic Impact of Section 232 and 301 Tariffs on U.S. Industries," May 2023  

The Associated Press, "Biden hikes tariffs on Chinese EVs, solar cells, steel, aluminum — and snipes at Trump," May 14, 2024 

The New York Times, "American consumers, not China, are paying for Trump’s tariffs," Jan. 6, 2020

USA Today, "President Biden's new tariffs on goods from China will affect EVs, semiconductors and more," May 14, 2024

The Guardian, "What’s behind the US tariffs on Chinese EVs and what do they mean for Biden’s re-election chances?" May 14, 2024

Fox Business, "Trump reveals why he wants a matching tax on trade," Aug. 18, 2023

South China Morning Post, "How much did Trump-era tariffs on China cost Americans? New US findings confirm ‘self-inflicted harm,’" March 17, 2023

The New York Times, How Biden’s trade war with china differs from Trump’s, May 14, 2024 

CNBC, Biden’s EV tariffs may not be enough to stave off the threat of Chinese vehicles in the U.S., May 15, 2024 

PolitiFact, "Who pays for US tariffs on Chinese goods? You do," May 14, 2019

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump's tariffs on China don't hurt Americans, top Trump adviser says. That's Pants on Fire," August 20, 2019 

PolitiFact, "Did Donald Trump lose a trade war he started, as Joe Biden says?" June 30, 2020

Email interview with Katheryn N. Russ, University of California-Davis economist, May 17, 2024

Email interview with Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, May 17, 2024

Email interview with Ross E. Burkhart, Boise State University political scientist, May 17, 2024

Email interview with Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, May 17, 2024

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Louis Jacobson

Will Joe Biden’s new China tariffs “hit every family”?

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up