Donald Trump Failed to Revive Michigan's Manufacturing Recession Like Obama Did—And Voters Might Take That to the Polls

Michigan currently suffers from a mild manufacturing recession despite President Donald Trump's promise to boost the industry, and recovery could play a big role in upcoming presidential elections.

Trump made revitalizing the manufacturing sector nationwide a pillar of his candidacy, and he became the first Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to turn Michigan red.

However, he was never able to quite come through with those promises, and the recent dismal job numbers in the crucial swing state with so many blue-collar workers could have political ramifications.

From 2017 through 2019, Trump's first three years in office, the state's manufacturing jobs saw a net gain of 12,100—roughly 2 percent growth—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But by October 2019, the state saw a loss of about 20,000 jobs—about 3.5 percent, with growth sluggish since then.

During President Barack Obama's first three years—2009 to 2011—there was a net gain of 49,900 manufacturing jobs in Michigan, representing an approximate 10.5 percent increase. The industry had witnessed a steady decline in the spring and summer of 2009 as a result of the Great Recession.

To be sure, during Trump's tenure, there has been a net gain for manufacturing jobs in Michigan. But the industry gains made under the first term of his predecessor eclipse that of his first few years in office.

Michigan manufacturing
President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the United States - Mexico - Canada agreement, known as USMCA, during a visit to Dana Incorporated, an auto supplier manufacturer, in Warren, Michigan, January 30. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

The downtick in manufacturing jobs during the end of 2019 was attributable to a slowdown in the automobile industry, and its comeback in the first few months of this year have been handicapped by the coronavirus outbreak, said Paul Isely, an economics professor and associate dean in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University in western Michigan.

"We're between 20 to 25 percent dependent on what's happening in manufacturing," Isely said. "That's a much larger portion than what you see in many other places."

And polls ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary show that voters are feeling the effects: Roughly 75 percent of Michigan voters said in January that a candidate's manufacturing policy is important when it comes to choosing a presidential hopeful this year.

Polls also show former Vice President Joe Biden is the front-runner in statewide polls, and his endorsements in the Mitten State are stacking up. Representative Haley Stevens and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, for example, lent their support by specifically citing the positive economic impact from the Obama administration's decision to bail out U.S. auto manufacturing companies, many of which are based in Michigan.

The industry is slowly rebounding in Michigan, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the struggle is only exacerbated by the coronavirus that is threatening to plunge the global economy into a recession.

"A lot of that had to do with automotive as it was coming off of its peak and drifting back down toward a more sustainable number," Isely said. "There were a lot of signs that might turn around at the beginning of this year before the Coronavirus."

He added that there's an overall decrease in confidence about the industry's performance this year. On top of that, Isely said, some in the industry are worried that the coronavirus outbreak will inflict stress on the supply chain and the ability to produce in the near future.

Despite the manufacturing slump Michigan is feeling, he said other sectors of the economy are strong enough to help minimize the negative effects.

"We saw a drop in output for many months, but it's still running pretty strong," Isely said. "It's weakened, but there's enough jobs elsewhere in the economy that that's getting absorbed pretty quickly."