Mar 9, 2020 - Economy

Manufacturing counties still struggling ahead of Michigan primary

Adapted from Third Way; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from Third Way; Chart: Axios Visuals

The counties in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that flipped from blue to red in 2016 all have something in common: they're heavily reliant on manufacturing and are still struggling amid industrial decline.

Why it matters: Michigan's primary on Tuesday will serve as a significant litmus test for former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are trying to win the trust of workers in those counties.

Flashback: In 2016, President Trump won by less than 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

By the numbers: In 2000, about 25% of workers in the counties that flipped from safe Democratic zones to the GOP in 2016 worked in manufacturing, double the number in safe blue counties and the country overall, according to a new Third Way analysis. These jobs typically paid well and provided full benefits without needing a college education.

  • From 2012 to 2016, safe blue counties managed to attract 800 manufacturing firms and create jobs. By contrast, "flip" counties lost 260 manufacturing firms and the jobs they supported.
  • In safe blue counties, 60% of the population completed some post-secondary education and one-third had a bachelor's degree in 2016, compared to only one-fifth of those in flip counties.
  • Safe blue counties have five times more privately owned businesses than counties that flipped to the GOP in 2016.

Michigan added 19,500 jobs in 2018-2019, but at the same time lost 5,300 manufacturing jobs.

  • While jobs have increased overall, many come with low pay and limited benefits.
  • Per capita income in the state is 14% below the national average, writes Crain's Chad Livengood in Detroit. That's a big drop from 20 years ago, when wages and benefits for Michigan workers was 1% above the national average.

The big question: Do voters who flipped from safe blue to red in 2016 think Trump has done enough to revive struggling the struggling manufacturing industry?

  • "Democrats looking to compete here in 2020 need to heed the divide between flip and safe counties—and ensure solutions are tailored to help all communities thrive in a new economy," writes Jillian McGrath, economic policy advisor at Third Way.

What's next: The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin primaries are next month.

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