Imports Work for American Workers



Laura M. Baughman, Joseph F. Francois | Trade Partnership Worldwide, LLC

The last several years have seen a growing public awareness of the importance of imports to the U.S. economy. Imports lower costs of production for U.S. manufacturers. Imported consumer goods help American families make ends meet. The imposition since 2018 of tariffs on an ever-increasing number of products imported from around the world – and especially from China – kept imports front and center in the news and in policy circles. Supporters of the tariffs argued they were creating new job opportunities in protected U.S. manufacturing sectors like steel and aluminum. Opponents of the tariffs countered that they were increasing costs of production and thereby costing jobs in manufacturing sectors that rely on imports to make other goods in the United States (e.g., steel-consuming manufacturers), and making important consumer goods too costly for American families.

The benefits of imports to American families and other consumers are widely acknowledged. Briefly, imports enable consumers to choose from a wider variety of goods than would be available in the absence of imports. And they help to keep the costs of those goods affordable. Additionally, imports support exports: Imported raw materials and other inputs to production make U.S. goods more competitive in international markets.

Today, many policy makers want to focus on the impacts of trade on jobs. How does trade policy affect workers, and in particular, workers who have been “left behind” by previous trade policy initiatives? More specifically, how have imports contributed to job losses in the United States, particularly among minority workers and those without college degrees?

While no one disputes the notion that competition from imports can cost some U.S. workers their jobs, what tends to happen in the public debate is that the broader job picture is not considered. Yes, some workers lose jobs, and those workers matter. But at the same time other workers owe their jobs to imports, and they should figure into the public policy debate as well.

This study focuses on a full assessment of the net impacts of imports on U.S. jobs in 2018. In other words, it considers not only the jobs lost to imports but also those supported by imports. It also considers all the ways in which job losses and job gains multiply through the economy as they impact other sectors. The study focuses on 2018 because it is the last full recent year before the tariffs imposed by the last Administration began to take full effect (in 2019) and before the impacts of the global pandemic (2020). It thus provides a cleaner recent picture of employment related to imports that is not as skewed by those events.


To read the full report from Trade Partnership Worldwide, LLC, please click here