New Balance shoe workers in Maine got some good news this week. Congress will be voting on a bill that will require the Department of Defense to follow a federal law that gives preference to domestic manufacturers of apparel, including athletic shoes.

Both the defense bill and the likely defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership mean that the 900 Maine workers will get a reprieve from global economic pressure. That’s reason for optimism not only in the families of New Balance workers, but also in the places where they buy their food, clothes and gas.

It’s also good for the New Balance factories’ neighbors, who would have seen their home values plummet had there been a mass layoff in town, and it’s good for the schools their kids attend and for the local police and fire departments, which all rely on tax dollars generated by people who are working. Good-paying jobs are the glue that holds communities together.

But while this is good news for these workers and their communities, there is plenty of cause for concern elsewhere in the economy. Manufacturing, which used to be a reliable source of the kinds of jobs that the New Balance workers are holding onto, is just not doing that as much anymore.

Much of the recent presidential campaign was spent arguing over whether free-trade policies and immigration were responsible for the loss of American manufacturing jobs, and with Donald Trump’s victory, many are expecting to see more protectionist policies from Washington.

That might mean more factories will reopen in the United States, but it does not mean that the jobs that hold communities together will come back with them. Technology is as responsible as foreign trade for the loss of manufacturing jobs, and closing the border won’t change that.


It’s not true, as many claim, that America does not “make things” anymore. Manufacturing is the largest sector of our economy, and American factories produce twice as much as they did in 1984. The inflation-adjusted output from American manufacturers is greater now than at any point in our history. But they are doing it with 7 million fewer workers than they employed 35 years ago.

So the factories may come back without the jobs that disappeared.

Maine’s congressional delegation, including 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, was right to fight for the New Balance jobs, because history shows they are hard to replace.

But going forward, the challenge for policymakers will be how to foster the growth of the kinds of jobs that support families and communities in the way that manufacturing jobs did in the past. Because, regardless of American trade policies, those jobs probably won’t be seen again.

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