There’s a Demographic Pattern to Trump’s Tariff Threats
By Cosette Creamer | March 8, 2018
President Trump has taken many by surprise with his recent threats to impose global tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Presumably seeking to deliver policy goods to his political base, the remarks appear aimed to support the principally white male workers in the steel and aluminum industries.
But if these tariffs are imposed, negative consequences will hit a whole host of other workers, and women workers in particular. Trade, too, is a gendered policy area.
Trade issues formed a central pillar of Trump’s campaign promises, which emphasized re-negotiating multilateral and bilateral trade agreements and increasing tariffs on imported goods from specific countries (China, Mexico) as well as across the board. These promises appealed to voters who saw globalization generally and free trade deals in particular as detrimental to American jobs and workers.
Now Trump appears to be making good on this promise, even if we have few details. His statements followed the Department of Commerce’s release of reports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. This section authorizes the Department of Commerce to investigate the impact of imports–in this case of steel and aluminum–on U.S. national security. In these reports, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross recommended that the President consider a number of remedies to address the national security problem posed by steel and aluminum imports, including global tariffs on both. The administration has not yet officially adopted any specific remedy or released any specific proposal. Still, President Trump’s statements floating the idea of a global tariff of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports alarmed many at home and abroad.
While Trump appears to be catering to one group of workers and their bosses, other groups will likely directly suffer.
Research demonstrates that tariffs tend to place a heavier burden on certain categories of consumers–namely single parents–and many goods that women overwhelmingly purchase (such as women’s clothing) have historically faced higher tariffs than goods typically consumed by men. Tariffs on steel and aluminium will hit broad US manufacturing sectors that depend on these inputs — from beer breweries to the aerospace industry. It will also affect household consumers as they absorb the increased costs of a soup can, the pot the soup might be cooked in, and aluminium foil.
Perhaps more detrimental, there is the risk that the imposition of such high global tariffs could lead to trade retaliation (which the EU –among others– has already threatened against American bourbon and bluejeans) or a full-blown trade war.
In evaluating the impact of such a scenario on the U.S. economy, one study found that while sectors that produce capital goods are likely to be the most intensely affected, the largest absolute number of job losses would occur in non-trade service sectors.
These sectors include wholesale and retail distribution and sales, restaurants, healthcare, and temporary employment agencies, sectors that tend to disproportionately employ women, and are also among the primary employers for women of color. According to the most recent American Community Survey (2016), while 16% of white men worked in service or sales, 24% of white women, 31% of African American women and 27% of Latinas (16 and over) worked in these occupations.
Tariffs and trade wars may be good for a handful of principally white male workers and CEOs. But the ripple effects will be negative for the rest of us, and harshest for women of color and those with lower economic means.
— Cosette Creamer is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota and affiliated faculty at the University of Minnesota Law School
— Photo by Chris Goldberg