Trump’s trade war may kill 900,000 jobs by 2020 — and drive economy into recession

Financial forecasters are increasingly convinced Trump's trade wars with China could drive U.S. into recession

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published September 11, 2019 5:30PM (EDT)

 (Getty Images/ iStock/ SAUL LOEB/AFP)
(Getty Images/ iStock/ SAUL LOEB/AFP)

President Trump’s trade war has cost the United States economy 300,000 jobs, according to an analysis by the financial forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics.

Trump’s trade war with China has cost the economy nearly 300,000 jobs, compared to estimated employment levels absent the tit-for-tat tariffs, according to the report. That includes both jobs that have been eliminated and jobs that would have been created under improved economic conditions.

Moody’s chief economist, Mark Zandi, told Yahoo Finance that the trade war will cost the United States 450,000 jobs by the end of 2019 and 900,000 jobs by the end of 2020 if current trends continue.

The hardest-hit industries would be manufacturing, warehousing and retail. 

The report also estimates there is a 35 percent chance that the trade war will escalate, which could be even more economically devastating. Trump has already announced another round of tariffs on Chinese products, and is pushing to increase tariffs on European products as well.

"Given the high-stakes game of chicken, it is not difficult to imagine a darker scenario in which tariffs on all U.S.-China trade rise further and additional nontariff barriers are imposed," the report said, warning that China may ban certain U.S. exports, revoke licenses from American firms, and sell the country’s holdings of the U.S. national debt.

Under the escalation scenario, Moody’s predicts that the United States would face a deep recession even if the Federal Reserve intervenes by quickly slashing interest rates.

Trump has claimed that the tariffs are leverage to get a better trade deal with China. But trade talks have repeatedly stalled and financial firms have soured on the prospect that any deal will get done.

"We remain skeptical that [Chinese President] Xi will be willing to accept any deal, even one that is limited in scope, with Trump going forward,” the financial firm Beacon Policy Advisors recently told clients, according to Yahoo. 

Trump claimed just last month that “we are winning, big time, against China” but the numbers contradict his claims. Funds raised from the Chinese tariffs are not even enough to cover the bailouts of farmers hit hard by the trade war, while the trade deficit with China has continued to increase

Employment data backs up Moody’s report. The economy has created 1.3 million jobs this year, compared to 1.9 million during the same period last year. Despite Trump’s claims that the economy is booming, GDP growth has fallen to 1.6 percent, far short of the 3 percent that the administration repeatedly promised, and could fall to 1 percent or lower by the end of the year, Yahoo Finance reports.

While banks are predicting a recession to hit the economy in the near future as a result of the trade war, data shows that the U.S. manufacturing sector has already entered a recession after contracting for two consecutive quarters. The problem is only getting worse, not better. A survey of purchasing managers showed that production and new orders continued to plummet in the beginning of the current quarter. The latest jobs report showed that the manufacturing sector added just 3,000 jobs in August, compared to an average of 22,000 jobs per month last year. 

Trump also claimed his policies would spark an investor boom but Yahoo notes that business investment growth has fallen to its lowest level since President Obama was in office.

Trump’s latest tariffs will also hit consumers much harder than previous increases. Earlier this month, Trump imposed a 15 percent tariff on finished consumer goods like clothes, shoes and appliances. Another set of tariffs is set to go into effect in December, affecting electronics and smartphones. Along with the Chinese tariffs already set in motion, Trump has threatened to impose a tariff on European cars and has proposed a 100 percent tariff on European goods like wine, cheese, olive oil and meat.

A study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that the tariffs that are already finalized would cost American consumers thousands of dollars a year, not even counting the threatened tariffs and potential escalation thereof.

“The tariffs will cost the average household $2,031 per year, and will be recurring so long as the tariffs stay in effect,” the report said. “If all tariffs threatened by the Trump administration are imposed, combined with the current tariffs in place, the annual cost to U.S. consumers would be $461.1 billion and the cost for the average household would be $3,614.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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