The China Shock was Matched by a China Boom

We have always known that trade and technology shocks destroy some jobs and create others with the change in equilibrium typically being zero net job losses and a net positive effect on wages. Increases in imports, for example, should be matched sooner or later by increases in exports as foreigners aren’t sending us goods for nothing. The China Shock paper of Autor, Dorn and Hanson seemed to suggest that the job losses were not matched by job gains. The paper’s clever identification strategy, however, was much stronger on identifying the losses than the offsetting gains (see e.g. Scott Sumner.)

New research by Feenstra, Ma and Xu and Feenstra and Sasahara (summarized here) shows, that as theory predicts, there were offsetting gains. Feenstra, Ma and Xu use similar techniques to ADH and find big offsetting increases in exports:

Our empirical results show important job gains due to US export expansion. We find that although imports from China reduce jobs, the global export expansion of US products creates a considerable number of jobs. Based on the industry-level estimation, our results show that on balance over the entire 1991-2007 or 1991-2011 periods, job gains due to changes in US global exports largely offset job losses due to China’s imports, resulting in about 300,000 to 400,000 job losses in net. Estimation at the commuting zone level generate even bigger job creation effects: in net, global export expansion substantially offsets the job losses due to imports from China, resulting in about 200,000 net job losses over the period 1991-2007, and a roughly balanced net effect if we extend the analysis to 1991-2011.

(Note that the net job loss figures are rounding error in an economy where there are millions of hires and separations every month).

Using a second, quite different, approach based on input-output calculations they find similar results in manufacturing but an even bigger effect on services:

We find that the growth in US exports created demand for 2 million manufacturing jobs, 500,000 resource-sector jobs, and a remarkable 4.1 million jobs in services, totalling 6.6 million. The positive job creation effect of exports in the manufacturing sector, 2 million, is quantitatively similar to the result in Feenstra et al. (2017), in which 1.9 million jobs were created by US exports from the instrumental-variable regression approach. On the import side, our analysis shows that manufacturing imports from China reduced demand for US jobs by 1.8-2.0 million, which is similar to the result in Autor et al. (2016), who finds a decline of 2.0 million jobs due to imports from China.

The authors conclude:

Our results fit the textbook story that job opportunities in exports make up for jobs lost in import-competing industries, or nearly so. Once we consider the export side, the negative employment effect of trade is much smaller than is implied in the previous literature. Although our analysis finds net job losses in the manufacturing sector for the US, there are remarkable job gains in services, suggesting that international trade has an impact on the labour market according to comparative advantage. The US has comparative advantages in services, so that overall trade led to higher employment through the increased demand for service jobs.


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