Gallup released a study that showed a majority of Americans see view foreign trade as a positive, with 54% seeing opportunities for economic growth through exports, while only 34% see a threat from imports.
While there are some partisan differences in how trade is seen, the real divide is in education levels. The survey showed college graduates and those with postgraduate education are more likely to see foreign trade as an opportunity for growth than those with no college or even some college education.
What does this mean?
- It means that at least more people are seeing that international connections — via trade — are important.
- It shows that a large group of the American people are either not receiving or are not processing information about international trade.
To be sure, the current international trade situation does indeed hurt those without higher education.
The United States primarily exports agriculture products (and farmers need a lot of education to keep doing their job) and high-end finished products. Most of the low-skill related jobs that can be exported have long left the U.S. market. So it is to be expected that those with less education would feel more threatened than those who have higher education and advanced work skills.
Part of the debate over trade is not as simple as “They are shipping our jobs overseas” and “Exports=jobs.” Both are true but there is a lot of grey between these points.
Companies will always go to where they can get the best economic value for their product. If that means it is cheaper to make something in China or Vietnam and ship it to the States than to make it in the States, they will do that. (Interestingly, there is a big move by companies to move back to the US so they can be closer to their market. Again, unfortunately for the less educated, less trained workers, these returning companies are using robotic and other high-tech methods to be competitive. That means higher-skills are needed for the new American jobs.)
And if higher skills are needed, then higher education — even if it is a two-year community college program — is needed for the workforce.
So what is needed in the trade debate is some discussion of this basic point: For America to compete in the global market, education is a key element.
Unfortunately this is missed by the loud proponents of free trade and loud no trade advocates. And it is missed by too many reporters covering the issue.
Too often trade stories focus on the backroom dealings at Doha or just the numbers. These are simple stories that do not connect to the people on Main Street. Likewise, no effort seems to be made to connect issues that appear domestic — such as the need for more access to training and higher education — with the international story.
Trade is an international issue as well as a domestic issue. And because American exports depend on an educated and well-trained workforce, that makes education an international issue as well as a domestic one.