Colin Gordon – Professor of history at the University of Iowa Co-authored with Stephen Herzenberg – Posted September 20, 2012 | 5:41 PM
Since President Bill Clinton’s September 5 speech to the Democratic National Convention, a great deal of attention has centered on his claim that, since 1961, the “jobs score” during seven Republican and six Democratic presidential terms amounts to 24 million for the Republicans and 42 million for the Democrats. The fact checkers have given these numbers their approval (see, for example, the Bloomberg verdict andThe Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact evaluation), although some critics (e.g.,The Washington Post) have questioned whether they are meaningful as a verdict on policy differences between the two parties.
All of this raised for us a related — and perhaps more important — question: what about manufacturing jobs? We ran the numbers a few different ways, finding the manufacturing jobs score was just as lopsided in favor of Democratic presidents as the overall jobs score. Since World War II, Democratic administrations have, on average, added between 160,000 and 250,000 manufacturing jobs each year they have been in office. Republican administrations have lost manufacturing jobs at about the same rate. In other words, when we turn our attention from overall jobs to good middle-class jobs, Democratic presidents do even better than Republicans.
There is little political disagreement that manufacturing jobs are crucially important: a recent report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology underscored the importance of manufacturing to the “future ability of the United States to innovate and invent new products and industries, provide high quality jobs to its citizens, and ensure national security.” In Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett’s Manufacturing Advisory Council concluded that manufacturing was “the foundation on which Pennsylvania’s economy was built and the driving force that provides family-sustaining wages for Pennsylvanians.”
These assessments are borne out by the numbers: manufacturing accounts for about two-thirds of all U.S. exports, almost 90 percent of the export of goods, and over three-quarters of export growth over the last year. Manufacturing firms account for about two-thirds of private research and development. Manufacturing contributes to economic activity and employment in other sectors more so than any other industry. Despite its long decline, manufacturing still accounts for 12 million production jobs and sustains a wide array of service, sales, and supply chain employment. Manufacturing accounts for more than 10 percent of employment in 19 states, and more than 10 percent of gross product in 31 states. It is a central economic asset of the nation’s cities. And manufacturing is especially important as a source of good jobs — those that pay a decent wage, and provide some health and retirement coverage — especially for those without a college degree.
Just as important, manufacturing workers along with manufacturing-intensive states and regions are critical politically. They make up a large part of the so-called Reagan Democrats, the “forgotten majority” of white non-college workers. These voters (especially the men) are often decisive in presidential elections. Little surprise, in this respect, that rust-belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, in which the past and future of manufacturing is so important, have become such key battlegrounds in electoral politics.
To calculate the manufacturing jobs score across presidential administrations, we went back to 1948 and analyzed manufacturing employment growth (or decline) in all post-World War II presidential terms: nine Republican and seven Democratic. We also did what we could to address one of the objections to the numbers used in President Clinton’s jobs score: for which period of time should a president be considered “responsible” for job changes. We ran our manufacturing numbers by presidential term three different ways to see whether our findings are robust across alternative methods.
The first, and simplest, approach is to take manufacturing employment in the first quarter of a president’s term and compare that with manufacturing employment in the first quarter of the next president’s term. What manufacturing employment situation did each president inherit from his predecessor and what did he pass on to the next?
The second method is similar, although it uses annual (rather than quarterly) employment averages. A year of data is more statistically robust than three months, and, as Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels argues, it takes a lag of a year for each new president’s policies to take effect.*
Our third method holds each administration account