A Conservative Estimate of ‘The Wal-Mart Effect’
In the long history of false promises made by trade negotiators, the claim that China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 would reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China and create good U.S. jobs stands out. The total U.S. goods trade deficit with China reached $324.2 billion in 2013. Between 2001 and 2013, this growing deficit eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs (Kimball and Scott 2014). As the world’s largest retailer, U.S.-based Wal-Mart is a key conduit of Chinese imports into the American market. This paper updates earlier work (Scott 2007) to provide a conservative estimate of how many jobs have likely been displaced by Chinese imports entering the country through Wal-Mart:
- Chinese imports entering through Wal-Mart in 2013 likely totaled at least $49.1 billion and the combined effect of imports from and exports to China conducted through Wal-Mart likely accounted for 15.3 percent of the growth of the total U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013.
- The Wal-Mart-based trade deficit with China alone eliminated or displaced over 400,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2013.
- The manufacturing sector and its workers have been hardest hit by the growth of Wal-Mart’s imports. Wal-Mart’s increased trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated 314,500 manufacturing jobs, 75.7 percent of the jobs lost from Wal-Mart’s trade deficit. These job losses are particularly destructive because jobs in the manufacturing sector pay higher wages and provide better benefits than most other industries, especially for workers with less than a college education.
- Wal-Mart has announced plans to create opportunities for American manufacturing by “investing in American jobs.” To date, very few actual U.S. jobs have been created by this program, and since 2001, the growing Wal-Mart trade deficit with China has displaced more than 100 U.S. jobs for every actual or promised job created through this program.
China has achieved its rapidly growing trade surpluses by manipulating its currency: it invests hundreds of billions of dollars per year in U.S. Treasury bills, other government securities, and private foreign assets to bid up the value of the dollar and other currencies and thereby lower the cost of its exports to the United States and other countries. China has also repressed the labor rights of its workers and suppressed their wages, making its products artificially cheap and further subsidizing its exports. Wal-Mart has aided China’s abuse of labor rights and its violations of internationally recognized norms of fair trade by providing a vast and ever-expanding conduit for the distribution of artificially cheap and subsidized Chinese exports to the United States.