It was hard to miss all the news stories the last few days about the jobs that will likely be lost in coal mining areas due to efforts to curtail carbon emissions. And these are stories that should be pursued. Most coal miners will never have another job that pays anywhere near as well if they lose their job in the industry.
Nonetheless a sense of scale would be appropriate. There are a bit less than 80,000 coal mining jobs in the whole country. They will not all go away and the regulations proposed by the Obama administration are being phased in over 16 years. By comparison, we lost roughly 80,000 jobs in coal mining in the eight years from 1985 to 1993, when the labor force was less than three quarters its current size. I don't recall anywhere near the same focus on this far more serious hit to coal country.
By comparison, we just has trade data released this morning showing that the deficit had jumped by $3 billion in April. The trade deficit has been running at a $535 billion annual rate over the last three months. This compares to a $450 billion annual rate over the prior three months. The difference, if sustained, implies a direct loss of roughly 700,000 jobs since GDP would be 0.5 percentage points lower with this larger trade deficit. (This doesn't count the multiplier effect, which would increase the impact by roughly 50 percent.)
It is striking that a rise in the trade deficit that could cost the country 700,000 jobs this year is likely to get so much less attention from the media than the Obama administrations' proposal to reduce carbon emissions, which will cost less than 80,000 jobs over the next 16 years. If the concern is simply jobs, it is a bit hard to explain the fact that job loss due to environmental restrictions is given so much more attention than the job loss due to trade, which is more than an order of magnitude greater and happening immediately.
Perhaps the explanation has something to do with the gainers from the trade deficit. The recipe for reducing the trade deficit is lowering the value of the dollar against foreign currencies. (This is pretty basic, a lower valued dollar makes our exports cheaper to foreigners. Therefore they buy more of our exports. It also makes imports more expensive. This causes us to buy domestically produced goods rather than imports.)
While it is not hard to see a path to a lower valued dollar and a smaller trade deficit not everyone benefits in this story. Walmart has spent decades building up low-cost supply chains throughout the world. It is not anxious to see the price of the goods it is importing increase by 15 to 20 percent due to a lower valued dollar. Similarly General Electric and other major manufacturers have set up operations in Mexico, China, and other low-wage countries. They don't want to lose the advantage they get from cheap labor by seeing the dollar fall in value relative to the currencies of these countries.
Add in the fact that the financial sector also likes a high dollar since it means their money goes farther overseas and you can see why it is hard to put together a political coalition pushing for a lower valued dollar. But honest reporters would focus on what matters for jobs and the economy.
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