Economic Development

Free Trade Agreements Seen as Good for US, but Concerns Persist

WASHINGTON — As Congress considers a major new trade pact with Asia, there is broad public agreement that international free trade agreements are good for the United States. But fewer Americans express positive views of the impact of trade deals on their personal finances.

And, as in the past, far more say free trade agreements lead to lower wages and job losses in the United States than say they result in higher wages and job gains, finds a new national survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, conducted May 12-18 among 2,002 adults, finds that 58% say free trade agreements with other countries have been a good thing for the U.S., while 33% say they have been a bad thing.

Majorities across income categories say free trade agreements are good for the U.S., but there are much wider income differences in opinions about the personal impact of free trade agreements.

Overall, somewhat more say their family’s finances have been helped (43%) than hurt (36%) by free trade agreements. Among those with family incomes of $100,000 or more, far more feel they have been helped (52%) than hurt (29%) financially. But among those in the lowest income group (less than $30,000), 38% say their finances have benefited from free trade agreements, while 44% say they have been hurt.

Notably, there are only modest partisan differences in views of the impact of free trade agreements on the country and people’s personal finances. About six-in-ten independents (62%) and Democrats (58%) say free trade agreements have been good for the U.S., as do 53% of Republicans. Nearly half of independents (47%), 42% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans say their family’s finances have been helped by free trade agreements.

The new survey finds that overall views about whether trade agreements are good for the U.S. are 10 percentage points higher than in 2011 (58% now, 48% then).

Moreover, the share of Americans who say their finances have been helped by free trade agreements has risen since 2010. At that time, negative impressions of the financial impact of trade deals outnumbered positive ones by 20 points (46% to 26%). Today, 43% take a positive view of the financial impact of free trade agreements, up 17 points since 2010, while 36% take a negative view (down 10 points).

In addition, a greater share says that trade agreements lead to economic growth than did so five years ago. About a third (31%) say that free trade agreements make the economy grow, while 34% think they slow the economy down; 25% say they do not make a difference in economic growth. In 2010, more than twice as many said they made the economy slow (43%) than grow (19%); 24% said they made no difference.

On the other hand, there has been no improvement since 2010 in opinions about the effect of free trade agreements on wages. Currently, 46% say free trade deals make the wages of American workers lower, while just 11% say they lead to higher wages (33% say they do not make a difference). The share saying that trade agreements drive down wages is largely unchanged since 2010, when 45% said they made wages lower.

In addition, trade agreements continue to be seen as doing more to cost jobs than create them. In the new survey, 46% say free trade agreements lead to job losses in the United States; just 17% say they create jobs in this country. That is only somewhat more positive than five years ago, when 55% said trade deals cost jobs and 8% said they create jobs.

As in past surveys on trade, most Americans think that people in developing countries benefit from free trade agreements. Nearly six-in-ten (57%) say they are good for the people of developing countries, 9% say they are bad and 23% say they do not make a difference. These opinions have changed little since 2006.

More Americans say free trade agreements lower prices in the U.S. than raise them. Currently, 36% say they make prices lower, 30% say higher, while 24% say they don’t make a difference. The share saying free trade agreements make prices lower in this country has risen five percentage

CLICK TO READ full results of survey.

SOURCE: Pew Research Center.


Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.