Bob, a manager at a personal care product manufacturing plant in northeast Pennsylvania, is one of the voters who may decide the outcome of the United States presidential election in November.
A 50-something-year-old resident of a crucial battleground state, Bob, who asked Al Jazeera to withhold his surname to protect his privacy, is not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic party.
Since 2000, he has voted for candidates from both sides of the political spectrum. In 2008, Barack Obama won Bob over. In 2016, it was Donald Trump. In both cases, his decision pivoted on the candidate he felt would do the most to protect US manufacturing jobs like his.
“I had hoped that with the Obama administration, we would see positive change,” Bob told Al Jazeera. “But for me and most people I know, it was a disastrous period. In addition to my very good healthcare plan being gutted and now more expensive, I lived through thousands of jobs in the company I work for either becoming eliminated, consolidated or moved out of the US.”
Bob kept his job, he said, but many of his colleagues did not.
“The last four years of the Obama administration were particularly devastating to manufacturing. The trade deals and regulations only added cost, and the main offset to the additional cost meant fewer people,” he explained.
Manufacturers in the US employ nearly 13 million workers, but from 2000-2010, those jobs were slashed by a third as China surpassed the US as the world’s leading manufacturer, according to Indiana University’s Manufacturing Policy Initiative.
Trump was partly elected on his promises to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. But what was a relatively healthy US manufacturing landscape during Trump’s first year in office started to turn sour in 2018 – the year his administration began unleashing a string of punitive tariffs against major trading partners, most notably China.