Pennsylvania’s economy has come too far in the first two years of the Trump administration to turn back now.
That’s the conclusion I came to as I reflected on the president’s return to the Keystone State, which took place Monday at a Montoursville aircraft hanger.
When Donald Trump made the rounds in Pennsylvania during the 2016 campaign, the state was still hurting. The long, slow, plodding recovery from the Great Recession that we experienced under former President Barack Obama was too little to help hardworking Pennsylvanians and simply hadn’t reached many corners of the state.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate stood at an unimpressive 5.2 percent, and the underlying reasons were no less ominous. The manufacturing sector, which has long been integral to Pennsylvania’s economy, showed no signs of serious recovery from its Great Recession slump, shedding 51,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone over the course of Obama’s presidency.
The energy, aluminum and steel industries, on which many of the hardest-hit communities in this state rely, faced their own challenges, chief among them being China’s trade manipulations. Encouraged by decades of timidity on the part of American negotiators, China’s government-subsidized metal producers threatened to put American mills out of business forever by dumping steel at below-market prices in the U.S. market.
Coal and gas, despite the “shale boom” Pennsylvania has been blessed with, were threatened by a raft of onerous regulations and plummeting energy prices.
It’s hard to believe how much the economy has improved in just a little more than two years since then.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is now at an all-time low of 3.9 percent, buoyed by a resurgence of the very industries that once seemed beyond salvation.
“That’s a pretty good stat,” the president pointed out during the rally. “How do you beat that?”
Not only have Pennsylvania manufacturers stopped hemorrhaging workers, they have added more than 5,000 new manufacturing jobs under Trump, contributing to an overall statewide figure of more than 120,000 new jobs created.
That didn’t happen on its own.
The Tax Foundation estimates that no fewer than 8,600 of those new jobs are directly attributable to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Trump shepherded through Congress in 2017, which also saved the average Pennsylvania taxpayer $1,169 on their federal income taxes last year.
Aluminum and steel mills, meanwhile, gained a new lease on life thanks to Trump’s commitment to a free, fair and reciprocal trade policy that protects American workers. The president’s detractors hemmed and hawed at every step, but manufacturers have applauded the move.
Our withdrawal from the harmful Paris Climate Accords, moreover, averted serious risks to our economy-sustaining shale oil and gas extraction industries.
So much more is possible if we continue to follow the course Trump has embarked on. As former Governor Tom Corbett reminded us, maintaining market access for our goods in North America and getting a fair deal for American workers depends on ratifying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement speedily.
For too long, Pennsylvania and the rest of the country have been saddled with this fundamentally bad deal for American workers, and the USMCA corrects NAFTA’s shortcomings while ensuring that trade barriers remain low with our closest trading partners.
Unfortunately, these gains are also fragile, because the Democrats are committed to rolling back the pro-growth, America First agenda if they get the opportunity.
One of the chief Democrats hoping to challenge Trump for Pennsylvania’s electoral votes next year, Joe Biden, is utterly unrepentant about his past support for NAFTA, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have made demonizing the jobs-fueling Tax Cuts and Jobs Act one of their top priorities.
Furthermore, the energy and manufacturing sectors, healthy as they are now, could be smothered out of existence if anything like the Democrats’ radical “Green New Deal” — which has been endorsed by most of the Party’s leading presidential candidates — ever comes into effect.
It only took two years for Trump to revive Pennsylvania’s economy, but it could take even less time for job-killing liberal policies to undo all that progress and put us right back where we were in 2016. We’ve come way too far to even think about changing course now.
Lance J. Stange, Jr. is Chairman of the Northeast Caucus of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania representing Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne, and Wyoming Counties.
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