Trump can't create manufacturing jobs — but he can bring back construction

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Donald Trump has made a lot of promises during his campaign that he won't be able to keep. But he may be able to come up with a close enough substitute for one of his big, difficult promises: a return of manufacturing employment.

Manufacturing was long a source of middle-skill, medium-wage jobs for men without college degrees, but employment has declined massively over decades due to a combination of automation and international trade.

Trump has promised to bring those jobs back, but he won't be able to because trade policy changes only affect trade flows at the margin, and because automation is a bigger factor in the employment decline than trade. Contrary to Trump's claims that we "don't make anything anymore, manufacturing output in the United States is higher than ever, but it takes many fewer workers to make a given amount of goods.

But there's another sector where public-policy changes could do a lot to create new middle-skill, medium-wage jobs for men: construction.

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12 jobs disappearing in the US

12. Computer programmers

They write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. Their jobs are at risk primarily because of global outsourcing.

Median annual pay: $80,000

US employment in 2014: 329,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 302,000

Projected decline: 27,000 (8%)

Photo credit: Getty 

11. Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

They set up or operate metal or plastic molding, casting, or coremaking machines to mold or cast metal or thermoplastic parts or products. Their jobs are at risk as companies switch to computer and robot-controlled machines.

Median annual pay: $29,000

US employment in 2014: 130,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 97,000

Projected decline: 32,000 (25%) 

Photo credit: Getty

10. Switchboard operators, including answering service

They operate telephone business systems equipment or switchboards to relay incoming, outgoing, and interoffice calls. Their jobs are at risk due to increased automation and online services.

Median annual pay: $27,000

US employment in 2014: 112,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 76,000

Projected decline: 37,000 (33%)

Photo credit: Getty

9. Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

They set up or operate machines to saw, cut, shear, notch, bend, or straighten metal or plastic materials. Their jobs are at risk as companies switch to computer and robot-controlled machines.

Median annual pay: $31,000

US employment in 2014: 192,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 153,000

Projected decline: 40,000 (21%)

Photo credit: Getty

8. Postal service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators

They prepare incoming and outgoing mail for distribution at post offices and mail processing centers. Their jobs are at risk due to automatic mail sorting technology and the switch to online services.

Median annual pay: $57,000

US employment in 2014: 118,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 78,000

Projected decline: 40,000 (34%)

Photo credit: Getty

7. Tellers

They are responsible for accurately processing routine transactions at a bank. Their jobs are at risk due to the rise of online banking and mobile apps.

Median annual pay: $26,000

US employment in 2014: 521,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 481,000

Projected decline: 40,000 (8%)

Photo credit: Getty

6. Sewing machine operators

They operate or tend sewing machines to join, reinforce, decorate, or perform related sewing operations in the manufacture of garment or nongarment products. Their jobs are at risk due to increased automation and outsourcing.

Median annual pay: $23,000

US employment in 2014: 154,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 112,000

Projected decline: 42,000 (27%) 

Photo credit: Getty

5. Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

They perform numerous tasks related to growing and harvesting grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other crops. Their jobs are at risk as farms consolidate and adopt technology that raises output per farmer.

Median annual pay: $20,000

US employment in 2014: 470,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 427,000

Projected decline: 43,000 (9%)

Photo credit: Getty

4. Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants

They perform clerical and administrative duties. Their jobs are at risk as technology automates or simplifies much of their work.

Median annual pay: $53,000

US employment in 2014: 777,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 732,000

Projected decline: 45,000 (6%)

Photo credit: Getty

3. Postal service mail carriers

They deliver mail to homes and businesses in cities, towns, and rural areas. Their jobs are at risk due to automated sorting technology and the switch to online services.

Median annual pay: $58,000

US employment in 2014: 297,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 219,000

Projected decline: 78,000 (26%)

Photo credit: Getty

2. Cooks, fast food

They prepare a limited selection of menu items in fast-food restaurants. Their jobs are at risk due to increased automation.

Median annual pay: $19,000

US employment in 2014: 524,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 444,000

Projected decline: 80,000 (15%)

Photo credit: Getty

1. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

They record financial transactions, update statements, and check financial records for accuracy. Their jobs are at risk because of technological changes that automate and otherwise simplify this work.

Median annual pay: $37,000

US employment in 2014: 1,760,000

Projected US employment in 2024: 1,612,000

Projected decline: 149,000 (8%)

Photo credit: Getty

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Trump has talked about his desire to increase government spending on infrastructure, which would create new construction jobs. Unsurprisingly for a real estate developer, he's also argued in the past for tax breaks to encourage new private construction. Even in "The Art of the Deal," he criticized the Tax Reform Act of 1986 for disfavoring real estate investment.

Housing construction has picked up since the great recession, but remains below normal levels. Changes to policy around mortgage lending or low-income housing subsidies or taxation of real estate investment could encourage more housing starts. It would also allow Trump to say we're building things in America again.

If Trump wants a revival of blue-collar employment, he won't have much luck with manufacturing, but he could make a priority of encouraging both public and private expenditure on construction.

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