Fact-checking President Trump’s swing-state spin

“Pennsylvania has never done this well. We’ve got steel back, we brought coal back, we brought so many things back, and the state now is doing better than it’s ever done. … Miners are going back to work that never thought they’d see that job again.”

— President Trump, in an interview following a campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., May 20, 2019

“Toyota’s coming in with $14 billion, many, many companies are coming in. And they’re coming in, frankly, to Michigan, they’re coming back, they want to be back to Ohio, to Pennsylvania, to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and what’s the name of this special place? It’s called Wisconsin. So they’ll be investing very shortly.”

Trump, at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wis., April 27, 2019

Notice a theme here? In Trump’s telling, several swing states that could decide the 2020 presidential election are seeing a resurgence of blue-collar jobs in the coal-mining, steel and automotive industries.

We’ve fact-checked many of these lines in our database of Trump’s false or misleading claims. But the blue-collar renaissance now appears to be a campaign mainstay, especially when the president touches down in swing states, so we’re taking a closer look at the numbers.

“Miners are going back to work that never thought they’d see that job again. … They’re digging coal again, so I’m really honored by that, and Pennsylvania is one of the big beneficiaries.” (Wilkes-Barre, Pa., May 20)

After a sharp decline of more than 35,000 jobs during the Obama administration, U.S. coal-mining jobs were up by 1,900 when measuring from Trump’s first full month in office through May 2019, reaching 52,800 total, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

In Pennsylvania, however, the number of coal-mining jobs has been flat during Trump’s term, fixed at 5,000. From February 2017 through April 2019, the state actually shed 100 coal-mining jobs, according to the most recent BLS data.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics has one measure on Pennsylvania’s coal mining jobs, which has previously been noted as undercounting the coal industry’s true number of total jobs,” a Trump campaign spokesman said.

The Trump campaign sent us an article from our friends at PolitiFact, which gave a “mostly false” to Scott Pruitt for claiming U.S. coal mining jobs had increased by 50,000 in 2017 compared with the previous year. (Pruitt at the time of this fact check was Trump’s administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. We gave him Four Pinocchios for this claim.)

“The coal industry has long chafed at the BLS’ definition of coal-sector jobs,” PolitiFact reported. “Terry Headley, the director of communications for the American Coal Council, said that coal employment numbers compiled independently by states are typically much larger than what BLS has found, perhaps because many states use broader definitions of who should be counted. For instance, Headley said, coal truck drivers — probably numbering several thousand nationally — are not broken out from the BLS data for ‘truck drivers.’ The situation is similar for electricians, surveyors, mechanics, and equipment service technicians, he said.”

The Trump campaign also sent us an April 2019 report from the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance. “Pennsylvania’s Coal Industry is a vital contributor to the state’s economy, with direct, indirect and induced impacts responsible for: Approximately 17,728 full-time jobs, about 5,966 of these directly in the Coal Industry.” (The 17,728 figure includes employees at hospitals, restaurants and other places where no one is swinging pickaxes at rocks.)

Separate estimates from the Energy Information Administration show Pennsylvania added 244 coal mining jobs in 2017. It was the first increase in five years, the Trump campaign noted. But the BLS figures likewise rose in 2017 and then weakened slightly in 2018. It’s possible the EIA data will follow the same trend when the 2018 figures are released.

Trump sometimes couches his coal remarks in terms of exports, not jobs. “I talk to the leaders of foreign countries,” he said at a rally in Belgrade, Mont., in November. “They love our coal, and we’re 65, either 55 — I’ve heard two numbers — I’ve heard 55 percent and 65 [percent] — either one is okay — increase in the export of coal to foreign countries this year.”

That’s mostly on the mark. U.S. coal exports increased 61 percent in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, according to the Energy Information Administration. They rose again, closer to 20 percent, in 2018.

Total coal exports were the same or higher during four years of the Obama administration, from 2011 through 2014. It’s also worth noting that coal exports grew at a rapid pace under Trump even after the mining industry shed more than 35,000 jobs during the Obama years. As the Trump campaign pointed out, EIA data show that “miners are working more hours in the state” and coal production rose 7 percent, to 49 million tons, in 2017.

“Pennsylvania has never done this well. We’ve got steel back … we brought so many things back, and the state now is doing better than it’s ever done.” (Wilkes-Barre, Pa., May 20)

Looking at primary metal manufacturing jobs, the category that includes the steel industry, total U.S. employment has risen and then fallen under Trump. The net gain is 4,555 jobs when measuring BLS figures from February 2017 through April 2019. At 98,407 total jobs in April, employment in this sector remains below pre-recession levels.

In Pennsylvania, jobs at iron and steel mills and in ferroalloy manufacturing are flat under Trump, after taking a tumble toward the end of the Obama administration.

That could change. U.S. Steel has announced a more than $1 billion investment to upgrade its Mon Valley Works facilities, which employ nearly 3,000 workers. But the company did not say it will be adding jobs at these Pittsburgh-area plants.

“The technology will allow for optimization of the Mon Valley Works and other U.S. Steel facilities without increasing the company’s overall steelmaking capacity,” according to a U.S. Steel news release announcing the plan. “The new endless casting and rolling facility will replace the existing traditional slab caster and hot strip mill facilities at the Mon Valley Works. Current and future employees will enhance their skills with more advanced manufacturing to operate and maintain the new facility through training programs developed in partnership with local universities.”

“Our automobile industry is pouring back into our country. … Everyone’s coming back in. Toyota’s coming in. Honda’s coming in. Many, many car companies. General Motors today just announced three big plants, 450 workers, $700 million. But the big announcement is in Lordstown, Ohio. They’re going to be selling that plant to Workhorse, it’s called. They make electric trucks. … With all of the companies pouring into Michigan, all of the companies pouring into Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, everywhere with all of these companies. They kept telling me with Lordstown, because General Motors closed it while they did the right thing, they sold it to a company. That’s going to do a great job with that beautiful plant, and that happened just a little while ago, just a little while ago. They’ll be spending a lot of money on fixing it up. It’s subject to the UAW.” (Panama City Beach, Fla., May 8)

“Toyota’s coming in with $14 billion, many, many companies are coming in. And they’re coming in, frankly, to Michigan, they’re coming back, they want to be back to Ohio, to Pennsylvania, to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and what’s the name of this special place? It’s called Wisconsin.” (Green Bay, Wis., April 27)

GM announced a $700 million investment and plans to create nearly 450 new manufacturing jobs in Ohio, as Trump said. Toyota is planning a $13 billion investment in U.S. plants, which would add 600 jobs, though the first $10 billion was announced in the days before Trump took office.

However, the sale of the mammoth GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, is not a done deal and there are questions about the potential buyer’s viability. Trump said the plant had been “sold” but also indicated the deal would be subject to approval from the United Auto Workers union, which has not been receptive to the idea.

“Workhorse has less than 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space,” The Washington Post’s Heather Long reported. “The Lordstown facility is more than 6 million square feet, making this a massive increase in the company’s capacity, although questions remain about how Workhorse can afford it. The company reported a $36.5 million loss last year.”

Auto manufacturing jobs in Ohio are flat so far during Trump’s administration. They remain far below their pre-recession peak and declined in 2018, according to the most recent BLS data. The manufacturing sector for auto parts in Ohio has seen an increase of fewer than 1,000 jobs during Trump’s term.

Trump listed six potential swing states reaping the benefits of an automaker revival, along with South Carolina. His claims don’t add up.

Automakers have announced new plants or expansions in Ohio, Michigan and South Carolina since Trump took office. No new car plants or automaker expansions have been announced in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.

Mercedes-Benz and Volvo both opened plants in South Carolina in 2018, but the projects broke ground in 2015, before Trump was elected. A Volvo executive said the automaker was considering shifting some production to India because of the Trump administration’s trade moves.

According to the Center for Automotive Research, BMW and Volvo each announced a $600 million investment in South Carolina in 2017. BMW said it was expanding its 25-year-old plant in the state. Volvo said it was doubling the size of the original $500 million investment announced in 2015.

Meanwhile, automaker suppliers in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin have announced $2.8 billion in investments since 2017, according to data from CAR’s “Book of Deals” database.

“The other four states are really automaker supplier states,” said Kristin Dziczek, CAR’s vice president of industry, labor and economics. “The one automaker investment in Pennsylvania, for example, represents Spartan Motors — a relatively small specialty chassis and vehicle design, manufacturing, and assembly firm.”

We asked the Trump campaign to point us to announcements of new car plants or expansions in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina or Wisconsin but did not get an answer.

“We took historic and dramatic action to save the American auto industry and to defend American autoworkers right here in Michigan. Right. And just in the last very short period of time we have added another 6,000 vehicle manufacturing and auto-parts jobs in Michigan alone and prevented thousands more from being shipped overseas and from going to Mexico.” (Grand Rapids, Mich., March 28)

The Bush and Obama administrations bailed out the U.S. auto industry during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Trump’s claim about “historic and dramatic action to save the American auto industry” refers to his tariff moves and a trade deal that has not been approved by Congress: the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

From January through April, auto industry layoffs approached 20,000, “more than twice the level for the first four months of 2018,” MarketWatch reported.

When Trump made this claim about job gains in Michigan’s auto industry, the most current BLS data ran through February and his 6,000 figure was accurate. Yet it’s worth pointing out that one-third of that growth had vanished two months later.

Motor vehicle manufacturing jobs in Michigan declined by nearly 1,500, comparing BLS totals from Trump’s first full month in office through April 2019. But manufacturing jobs for auto parts increased by 5,500 over the same period. That’s a net gain of 4,000 for both sectors combined in Michigan since Trump’s first full month in office.

CAR warned in a recent report that Trump’s signature trade moves would deal a blow to U.S gross domestic product and auto industry jobs.

“Rather than help the U.S. automotive and parts industries, the cumulative effect of the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs, Section 301 China tariffs, USMCA, and the potential 25 percent Section 232 tariff on imported autos and auto parts could lead to a 1.3 million drop in U.S. light vehicle sales, 366,900 fewer U.S. jobs, and $30.4 billion lower U.S. economic output (Gross Domestic Product),” the group said in February. “U.S. new automobile dealerships could lose as many as 77,000 jobs and $43.6 billion in revenue.”

The Pinocchio Test

Is Trump ushering coal mining jobs back into Pennsylvania? It seems like a wash whether you look at the BLS data through April or the EIA data showing a 244-job increase in 2017.

Is he bringing steel back to Pennsylvania? Jobs in this sector are flat in the state, and U.S. Steel did not say that its massive investment in the Pittsburgh area would increase the total job count.

We won’t include Trump’s claim about 6,000 new autoworker jobs in Michigan in the Pinocchio rating. But the president said car companies are flocking to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, “pouring into Michigan … pouring into Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio,” when automakers have announced new plants or expansions in only three of those seven states.

The full picture shows some improvement, some stagnation — and a series of Trumpian exaggerations. We give these claims Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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