Millions of factory jobs have been lost in recent decades, obliterating a powerful pathway to economic stability.
“Manufacturing workers of all backgrounds faced hardships because of offshoring and the incredible loss of factory jobs in recent decades. But Black workers suffered the most,” Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) President Scott Paul testified before the International Trade Commission (ITC) Tuesday, as it continued its investigation into the distributional effects of trade and trade policy on U.S. workers.
During his testimony, Paul spotlighted the brutal blow that globalization has dealt workers as factories across the country closed in its aftermath. However, he spotlighted the especially grievous toll those losses have exacted on workers of color, who had found good wages and entrance into the middle class through manufacturing after generations of discrimination.
More than 5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost over the past 25 years, with a 30.4% decline in total Black manufacturing employment in that time, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) documented in a report that was released earlier this year. As Paul noted:
“This shock has been felt in thousands of towns across America, and particularly in the Industrial Heartland. Add social discrimination and structural inequities to all of this, and one can quickly understand why standard economic analysis of trade and trade policies may overlook far-reaching and deep consequences.”
This devastation was captured in the findings of AAM’s 2016 report “Unmade in America: Industrial Flight and the Decline of Black Communities”, which Paul referenced in his testimony. Though deindustrialization was disastrous for Black and white workers alike, Black workers “found it particularly difficult to adjust to the changing circumstances,” as Black workers “are disproportionately represented among the long-term (27+ weeks) unemployed,” the report states.
EPI’s report also evidenced that the obliteration of these factory jobs was especially pernicious as manufacturing employment offers “substantially” higher pay for workers of color, as well as white workers without a college degree. Among median-wage, non-college educated employees, Black factory workers earn $5,000 more per year than workers in other industries with similar wage boosts for other workers of color.
These findings demonstrate the critical importance of strengthening America’s manufacturing industry as a means of supporting Black workers.
“Too many trade policy conversations and formal methods of analysis have failed to capture many of the long-lasting and indirect costs of trade agreements and other policy decisions that have led to more intense import competition and shifts of production abroad. It’s well past time for a change,” Paul said.