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Justin Fox

Free Trade Doesn't Have to Devastate Workers

This trade-bashing is understandable, in light of economic conditions.
A fan of barriers.

A fan of barriers.

Photographer: Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

The past decade and a half have been tough for a lot of American workers. Real median household income in 2014 was more than $4,000 below the 2000 level. The share of American adults with jobs is well below the 2000 level, too. 

One likely cause of this long malaise has been China's epic rise as a manufacturing exporter. Headline-grabbing new research has found depressed wages and increased job churn among U.S. workers in industries with big increases in imports from China, and lasting ill effects for the hardest-hit local labor markets. After centuries of emphasizing the benefits of free trade, mainstream economists have started paying more attention to the possible downsides.