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In 1997 we were the fastest growing manufacturing metro area in the country and four years later it collapsed, what you can see on the ground today is 3,000 job openings. China's emergence as the world's low-cost producer and export superpower following its World Trade Organization entry in 2001 dealt a heavy blow to traditional industrial communities such as Hickory. Economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson have tried to separate the impact of trade from other factors affecting U.S. manufacturing employment and they estimate that between 1990 and 2007 Hickory lost 16 percent of its manufacturing jobs just due to surging imports from China. DEEP SCARS. Buffeted by other headwinds, such as the 1994 North American Free Trade agreement and the lifting of textile quotas in 2004, the area lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs overall, half the total, between 2000 and 2009. Nationally, more than 5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared since 2000, a period that also included the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The collapse left deep and still visible scars that help explain the appeal of Trump's pledge to bring back manufacturing's glory days. In Hickory, disability rolls soared more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2014, swollen by older workers who struggled to return to the workforce. At the same time, the share of the 25-34 year old in the population fell by almost a fifth between 2000 and 2010. Consequently, even as the unemployment rate tumbled from a peak above 15 percent in 2010 to 4.6 percent today, below the national average, so did the labor force participation rate. It fell from above 68 percent in 2000 to below 59 percent in 2014. Poverty levels doubled. Yet the manufacturing upswing in areas that suffered the most during the downturn is evident. Rust belt states, such as Michigan, Indiana and Ohio that may prove pivotal in the Nov. 8 presidential election, have been adding manufacturing jobs faster than the economy as a whole. Michigan, for example, which lost nearly half of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2009, has since then seen a 25 percent rise, well above the 4 percent gain nationally. Manufacturing employment there is still well below the levels in the 1990s. Economists debate whether returning to that level is realistic given technological advances that have reduced manufacturing's share of the workforce from a high of above 30 percent in the 1950s to around 8 percent today. But they also feel that have already seen the bottom, particularly when it comes to China's impact.

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