For every job in the American steel industry, there are forty-five jobs in steel-consuming industries. A rise in steel prices may help the one steelworker but it will harm forty-five other workers whose jobs depend on steel prices remaining affordable—and that is not even getting into consumer loses—yet the current administration is pursuing a policy—raising steel and aluminum tariffs to twenty-five and ten percent respectively—that will harm forty-five workers to benefit one.
In 2002, the Bush administration implemented a similar but smaller scale policy. That experiment cost 200,000 jobs and four billion in wages to be lost from February to November 2002. Less than 200,000 Americans were employed in the total steel producing industry in 2002.
Today, the steel producing industry employs less than 150,000 workers. Industries that consume raw steel employ over 6.5 million Americans. While the steel industry has been losing jobs, it is almost entirely because of increased productivity through technological progress—more steel was produced in 2017 than in 2003 with approximately 40,000 fewer employees. Tariffs will not change this trend.
Lastly, the costs consumers will arguably be worse. In a CNBC interview, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross admitted the cost would be “half of 1% price increase on the typical $35000 car.” According to the administration, that is “no big deal.” That price increase translated to $175 per car, not an insignificant number to the average American. Seventeen million new cars were sold in America in 2017. An additional $175 tax on each car would cost American consumers billions every year.