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January/February 2013, 
Vol. 95, No. 1
Posted 2013-01-04

U.S. Manufacturing and the Importance of International Trade: It’s Not What You Think

by Kevin L. Kliesen and John A. Tatom

The public often gauges the strength of the U.S. economy by the performance of the manufacturing sector, especially by changes in manufacturing employment. When such employment declines, as has been the trend for many years, it is often assumed to be evidence of the slow death of U.S. manufacturing and an associated rise in imports. This article outlines key trends in U.S. manufacturing, especially the strong performance of manufacturing output and productivity, and their connection to both exports and imports. The authors use ordinary regression, causality, and cointegration analyses to provide empirical evidence for the positive role of imports in boosting manufacturing output. Policies to bolster exports at the expense of imports would significantly harm U.S. manufacturing.