Revitalizing America's Metals Industry

President Obama traveled to China last week for a meeting of the G20. Neither he nor the other leaders assembled had anything concrete to offer the American industrial metals industry.

The White House’s summary of the president’s private meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping had virtually nothing to say about currency manipulation or the global steel glut caused by China. The G20’s statement on reviving global growth also lacked teeth. The group proposed a “forum” to analyze overcapacity, but the Chinese made sure the announcement didn’t mention China by name. This “forum,” which will take a year to issue its findings, will not help the estimated 19,000 U.S. steel workers who now face imminent layoffs because Chinese steel and aluminum is flooding the market today.

The lack of strength behind these statements is frustrating — and devastating to American workers.

The White House says the U.S. economy is recovering, but the national annual growth rate is still well below 2 percent. Although the official jobless rate indicates the country is approaching full employment, tens of millions of Americans have dropped out of the workforce, including 7 million American men in the prime of their lives. While after every previous recession, the industrial metals industry has rebounded past its former strength, 7 years after the Great Recession, our industry is still languishing, shipping 40 percent less carbon steel than before the downturn and 20 to 25 percent less stainless steel and aluminum, according to research by the Metals Service Center Institute.

The rest of the economy may have “recovered,” but the U.S. metals industry has not — a state of affairs that has met with silence and indifference from our political leaders.

This is unfortunate. Metals service centers generate wealth and reduce poverty by creating new jobs and opportunities. These businesses employ more than a half million people and generate an additional 1.9 million jobs in supplier and ancillary industries — jobs that pay an average of $60,900 in annual wages and benefits.

But Washington policy — or lack of it, in too many instances — is straining the industry’s ability to provide these well-paying, stable jobs. And to be clear: Government subsidized Chinese overcapacity is just one of the major factors threatening the American metals industry.

Our industry has waited too long for fundamental, comprehensive federal tax reform — reform that will make our tax rates more competitive globally, that will ensure fair and competitive rates for the 28 million businesses that pay their federal taxes through the individual income tax code. 

We’ve waited too long for an immigration reform package that provides certainty to employers and ensures access to both low-and high-skilled workers. 

We’ve watched as onerous labor and employment regulations, like OSHA’s injuries and illnesses rule, are heaped on our companies, while our education and training systems struggle to provide students and workers with the skills they need to fill the jobs in our industry.

As our roads, bridges, ports and other critical infrastructure crumble, Washington has refused to stop its partisan bickering and give us a comprehensive infrastructure improvement program. Last year’s highway bill aside, we’ve stood by as Congress passed only temporary infrastructure measures. We still have no national comprehensive energy legislation. We’ve watched as the Obama administration let important energy projects die and job-creating exploration permits languish for months.

We’ve begged for regulatory reforms that require rigorous cost-benefit analyses. And we’ve watched as current trade agreements go unenforced and currency manipulation continues.

Though Chinese overcapacity is part of the problem, China doesn’t deserve all of the blame. Too many politicians have stood on the sidelines. While dozens of lawmakers — genuine leaders — have worked tirelessly within their caucuses and across the aisle, their numbers remain insufficient. 

Of course, it’s unlikely that any of these issues will be addressed this September or in a lame duck session of Congress. But to win the hearts, minds, and votes of American workers in our domestic metals industry, lawmakers must show us how they will address these important public policy issues and how they will end the stalemate that surrounds them.

Tell us how you’re going to lead; tell us how you’re going to help our industry recover. We’re listening.

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