Scott: Rapid growth in non-oil goods deficit

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EPI summary fact: The sharp decline in the petroleum trade deficit masked a large increase in the non-oil goods trade deficit, which could result in substantial U.S. job losses in the future.

Rob Scott | Economic Policy Institute | February 5, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the annual U.S. trade deficit in goods and services increased from $508.3 billion to $531.5 billion from 2014 to 2015, an increase of $23.2 billion (4.6 percent). The slow growth of the overall U.S. trade deficit hides massive underlying shifts in the trade deficit in petroleum products (which declined $157.3 billion, or 55.3 percent), compared with the trade deficit in all other goods, which increased from $547.7 billion to $655.9 billion—an increase of $108.2 billion, or 19.8 percent. The sharp decline in the petroleum trade deficit masked a large increase in the non-oil goods trade deficit, which could result in substantial U.S. job losses in the future.

Most U.S. goods trade consists of manufactured products. In 2015, manufacturing constituted 86.9 percent of total U.S. goods trade, and 94.3 percent of total trade in non-oil goods. Because manufacturing is such a large employer, rapidly growing trade deficits in non-oil goods are a threat to future employment in this sector. The growing trade deficit in manufactured products rose to 3.8 percent of GDP, only 0.7 percent (7 tenths) of a percentage point below the maximum reached in 2005. The manufacturing trade deficit also reached a record high of $681 billion in 2015, well in excess of the previous peak $619.7 in 2007. Rapidly growing manufacturing trade deficits were responsible for most, if not all, of the 4.8 million U.S. manufacturing jobs lost between December 2000 and December 2015, and there’s every reason to believe that these job losses will continue if the non-oil trade deficits keeps growing.

This analysis is primarily concerned with shifts in goods trade. The U.S. balance of trade in services declined slightly in 2015, falling from a trade surplus of $233.1 billion in 2014 to $227.4 billion in 2015. Trade in goods continues to dominate overall trade flows for the United States—trade in services totaled only 24.1 percent of total U.S. goods and services trade in 2015.

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