“When you hear that Trump is bragging about the economy, I know better — it’s not trickling down to the workers at all. It’s staying in the boardrooms,” said Bryan Pietrzak, a machinist at Wabtec, Erie’s largest manufacturer, which builds locomotives and cut around 100 jobs late last year. The company has reduced Pietrzak’s schedule to every other week.
The state has averaged 565,600 manufacturing jobs each month in Trump’s first three years in office, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In President Barack Obama’s last three years: 566,100.
Despite his big manufacturing promises and modest local results, for many supporters here, a disdain for Democrats and admiration for the president’s combative persona counted more than almost anything else.
Pennsylvania had 565,100 manufacturing jobs in December, according to the latest regional data — an increase of 0.7% from when Trump took office. That’s fewer manufacturing jobs than the state had for most of Obama’s second term, though the count declined sharply in the year leading up to Trump’s Nov. 2016 election. (Pietrzak lost his job in that 2016 downturn, but returned in 2018).
In Erie, education and health service jobs have overtaken manufacturing, said Kenneth Louie, an economist at Penn State Behrend. That matches national trends. Erie Insurance recently surpassed Wabtec as the top employer. “The new services jobs, however, typically pay less than those in manufacturing,” Louie said.
In blustery downtown Erie, Corey Harris said he had gone from relying on food stamps while working nursing jobs to landing a manufacturing position at Lord Corp. that helped him make $60,000 last year.
“President Trump has delivered on his campaign promise to fight for American workers,” said Sarah Matthews, a Trump campaign spokeswoman. “The 2020 Democrat candidates want to eliminate union-negotiated healthcare and ban fracking, which would have a devastating impact on Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry.”
In Erie, many are happy that Wabtec is still in business after the company bought the local facility from General Electric. But Wabtec instituted lower pay for new hires, and in recent months cut jobs through lay-offs and attrition. The company attributed the reduction to typical business cycles.
“We have had nothing but growth and it feels to me like my peers have been the same way because everybody’s busy,” said Robin Scheppner, the third-generation leader of the American Tinning & Galvanizing Company downtown.
On a recent morning at Viking Plastics in rural Corry, a few miles south of the New York state border, a robot pressed green seals into small plastic caps used to cap refrigerant in cars. Twenty years ago, two dozen people might have done the same thing by hand, said Kelly Goodsel, Viking’s president and CEO.
At the same time, he said, tariffs on plastic molds imported from China, part of Trump’s long-running trade war, have added costs and uncertainty, and he has seen signs of sluggishness. After years of economic gains, many people have bought the cars and refrigerators they needed, so there’s less demand for the plastic parts Viking provides for those products.
This content was originally published here.