China and India are winning the “jobs war”. American jobs are being lost most to developing countries where the average wage is less than $3,000 per year. What is the impact of trade deficits on jobs? With a trade deficit of about $700 million, and with about 45% of trade volume representing labor and private sector multipliers of 2.0, America’s trade deficit represents about 14 million lost American jobs.
Do trade deficits harm America? Since the average income for major trade surplus countries is under $3,000 versus the average American at $43,000, many products overseas can be manufactured at far less costs than in America. If all wage differences were passed back to American consumers, our consumers would benefit from lower prices by about $280 billion. But if we net out the loss of $630 billion in lost American wages, America still loses $350 billion every year.
Which Americans benefit and which are penalized by trade deficits? Laid off workers lose because they collect only a portion of their wages in unemployment. Their unemployment payments are paid by all Americans, so taxpayers lose. Lower wage consumers benefit more by lower prices than by the taxes that they are required to pay, so their households benefit perhaps as much as $2,000 a year. Of course in the long run, trade deficits are borrowed, causing loan rates to go up for both consumers and government, so all America is penalized.
Does freeing up trade benefit America? Certainly, more American goods and services can be sold to other countries and more foreign goods can be purchased by American consumers. However, unless our government negotiators are savvy enough to remove specific trade restrictions that will reduce our trade deficits, the large differences in wages between America and developing countries would suggest we will not benefit from more free trade.
Freeing up trade should grow the volume of trade, and therefore the trading class should benefit. The working class American who has a job may also benefit from some consumer savings at the expense of all Americans. Of course, many Americans who no longer have jobs will not benefit. And until the rest of the world’s wages catch up to America’s, or free trade increases innovation to allow Americans to purchase more goods at less cost, it seems that for a period to come, America will lose financially.