Since 2000, the United States has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs. Bringing them back to America is a top priority for our new president, Donald Trump.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” the president said during his inaugural address.
So can America get its jobs back? That's what Teresa Trasfi wants to know. She's an unemployed, single mother of four from Duncanville.
So what does a good American job look like? We took Teresa to Special Products and Manufacturing in Rockwall to find out. That’s where we met Jacob Miller who thinks he's got a pretty good job.
They trained him to operate a $500,000 piece of equipment that bends metal to precise measurements.
“This is saving an hour and half?” Teresa asked Jacob.
“This is saving an hour and half. This is going take us about a minute and a half,” Miller said.
“I'm not asking you exactly what you make, but what could you make?” Schechter asked.
“You can make a good salary. You can raise your family. You can pay your bills. They start you off around 15, you can get up into the 25 and 30 dollars an hour,” Miller said.
“I got my foot in the door,” said Miller.
Manufacturing used to be the bedrock of our economy, but we've lost so many jobs like this. Where did they go? We’re taking Teresa to McAllen, on the Texas side of the Texas-Mexico border.
President Trump blames cheap labor from Mexico for taking away American jobs.
Dr. Tom Coyle is our guide. He's an expert in international trade at the University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley. We met him at the Pharr-Reynosa Bridge, one of 25 international bridges between Texas and Mexico.
“The total volume of trade, north and south on this bridge for 2015 was $29 billion,” said Coyle.
We're learning from Tom that all the trucks are coming from factories in Mexico, called maquiladoras. American parts and raw materials are shipped here. Then workers making about $2 an hour assemble a final product and ship it back the U.S. Everything crosses the border tax-free.
“Trump has said, 'Make it in America or face a stiff border tax.' What happens if you have a stiff border tax right here?” Schechter asked.
“If you have a stiff border tax, total cost goes up. If it comes too un-cost competitive, people go out of business,” Coyle said.
The next morning, Teresa and David were in Brownsville, crossing the Rio Grande into Matamoros, Mexico. The U.S. State Department warns about travel here because of kidnapping and murder by the drug cartels.
Despite some of the dangers, trade statistics show 2.4 million Mexicans work in maquiladoras.
“A lot of the factories overwhelmingly supply the U.S. market,” said Tom, while driving through the streets of Matamoros.
“Why is this community and the maquilas here, why are they good for America? Are they good for America?” Schechter asked Coyle.
“Yes they are and here's why. Because those companies that left the United States did not wake up one morning and say 'we could make a few more dollars if we just packed everything up and went to Mexico,'” Coyle said.
“You wake up one morning and say 'if we don't do something quick we'll have to close this factory entirely,'” he added.
So for some companies, it's go out of business in the U.S. or make it cheaper in Mexico.
“What would someone in the U.S. make to do the same job?” Trasfi asked Coyle.
“That would be somewhere between 14 and 20 dollars an hour. That would be the going rate. But if you were to take it back to the U.S., they'd be out of business because they could not compete on the world market,” he answered.
Teresa and I are learning that making things in Mexico can be a competitive advantage for American companies.
“So are you seeing it makes sense to operate in Mexico?” Schechter asked Trasfi.
“It makes sense, in regards to America, because it's going to keep their costs down,” she answered.
The final stop is Lone Star, Texas -- home to what was once a giant steel plant in the 1950s. This town has been devastated by layoffs.
Tiny Green is acting president of the local United Steelworkers union.
“At the peak of this town, how many people worked out there?” Schechter asked Green.
“At its highest point it was roughly 8,000 people,” Green answered.
“How many now?"
“Right now it's 130 in the plant,” Green said.
“That's a lot of families that are impacted,” Trasfi said.
“We've had people who've had three to four generations that have worked out here,” said Green.
In the last few years there's been less demand for the kind of steel made here. But there's a bigger problem. The U.S. government says China is violating trade rules by dumping cheap steel, made with cheap labor, into the American market.
“What has been the major contributor to those layoffs?” Trasfi asked.
“I believe the major effect is the non-duty steel that’s being allowed to come into this country. We can't compete with 50 cents a day labor in China, no EPA, nothing to regulate them,” Green said.
“I can see it in your face. And I felt it. My heart goes out to you guys,” said Trasfi, as she began to cry.
“I appreciate it, thanks,” said Green.
“It's hard. I'm unemployed myself. Trying to raise my family as a single parent. I know it's hard,” said Trasfi.
“We all need good-paying jobs, whether you're at the top of the heap or the bottom. You still have to be able to survive in this country,” said Green.
On this road trip we've verified a couple of things.
First in the global economy, the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico can be mutually beneficial. But being part of the global economy can hurt the American worker.
We've definitely lost a lot of jobs in this country. And Trump wants to bring them back.
“That is a great idea. But he makes it sound very simple,” Schechter said to Trasfi.
“He makes it sound too simple. Just by doing this these past few days there's nothing simple about it. Nothing,” she said.
“You’re verifying that we can't really bring our jobs back?” Schechter asked.
“Correct. They're not coming back. That's my opinion,” she said.
Teresa is learning that some companies that make it in America can't compete because of cheap labor around the world. Until that changes, she doesn't think America can get its jobs back, but she's hopeful we'll create new ones.
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