Originally Published in The Washington Post
Tracy Jan - January 8, 2021
Researchers analyzed and matched government data on trade job losses with demographic data in a rare look at how purportedly race-neutral trade policies and agreements impact American workers of different races and ethnicities.
Not only were Black and Latino factory workers more likely to lose their jobs, they were also less likely to find new employment, said the reportby Public Citizen, a nonprofit corporate and government watchdog. When they did manage to secure work, they faced larger pay cuts than White workers with similar educational backgrounds.
“The conventional wisdom created by Trump was a narrative of White working-class voters being the only injured party hurt by trade,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who co-wrote the report with research director Daniel Rangel. “In fact, working-class people of all races and ethnicities got slammed by our trade policies, but the data show it’s Black and Latino workers who have suffered the heaviest damage.”
Since 1993, the government provided 3.2 million workers with extended unemployment and retraining benefits under its Trade Adjustment Assistance program after certifying their jobs were lost to trade. But government data show millions more manufacturing jobs have been lost: More than 60,000 U.S. factories have closed during this time, and net manufacturing employment has dropped by 4.5 million — accounting for nearly 1 out of every 4 manufacturing jobs.
Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in the manufacturing sectors hit hardest by trade, including offshoring and imports — such as automobiles and steel, furniture, textiles and garments, and electrical appliances — as well as customer service call centers, the report found. Wages in these manufacturing sectors have also stagnated in the past 25 years.
Millions of African Americans had migrated from the Jim Crow South for manufacturing jobs and economic opportunity in Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York. Black workers have lost nearly half a million manufacturing jobs during the NAFTA-WTO era, spread across the automotive, metals, paper manufacturing, beverages and tobacco sectors. Latino workers lost more than 300,000 jobs in electrical equipment and appliances manufacturing as well as in textiles, apparel and leather manufacturing. Both groups are also overrepresented in call center and customer service jobs that have been offshored to the Philippines.
The decline in U.S. manufacturing fueled competition for a smaller number of well-paying jobs available to workers without college degrees and exacerbated systemic racial inequalities.
“The negative impact of trade shock job loss and wage declines are magnified for [Black and Latino workers] because it comes in the context of underlying racial biases against Black and Latino populations that have affected hiring and promotion prospects, wages and educational opportunities for generations,” the report said.
“The outcomes of our trade policies and agreements have reinforced a racially biased system,” it said.
In general, Black and Latino workers who lose their jobs are less likely than their White counterparts to find new jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For every 100 White workers who lost their jobs, 14.3 remain unemployed. In comparison, more than 21 of every 100 Black and Latino workers who lost their jobs remain unemployed.
Black and Latino workers who remain employed in manufacturing were paid 23 to 25 percent less than similarly educated Whites performing the same tasks, according to a 2013 study by the Economic Policy Institute. Median weekly earnings in 2020 were $806 for Black workers and $786 for Latino workers, compared with $1,018 for White workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There is a tendency to believe that the economy works the same for everyone, but discrimination in the labor market is real,” said William Edward Spriggs, a Howard University professor who serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO. “The losses in the best manufacturing jobs due to trade ignites the cascading of the market and causes displacement within the next tier of manufacturing jobs that Blacks previously had a chance to dominate.”
Younger Black workers who no longer have the opportunity to obtain union-wage factory jobs now face stiffer competition from displaced Whites for second-tier manufacturing jobs, leaving them few options outside of lower-wage work in retail and hospitality, Spriggs said.
The racial economic disparities continued under Trump, whose trade wars failed to end offshoring or rebuild domestic manufacturing as he had promised early on in his presidency. More than 311,000 workersreceived Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits during the first three years of the Trump administration after losing their jobs to trade,including more than 200,000 whose jobs were listed as offshored.
Some 750,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in 2020 in part due to Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, the Public Citizen report said. Instead of the United States shrinking its trade deficit as Trump once vowed, imports surged and by the third quarter of 2020, the trade deficit was 26.4 percent higher than during the same period in Barack Obama’s final year in office.
“Trump is the one who promised a renaissance in manufacturing, and the reality is that the number of manufacturing jobs are down,” Wallach said.
Researchers said that if President-elect Joe Biden truly wants to address historic racial inequalities as he promised during his campaign, his administration will have to revisit trade agreements.
“The trade issue has become incredibly politicized and for Democrats to represent the interest of working Americans, they will need to create a new approach to trade,” Wallach said. “Their commitment to addressing racial inequality also mandates the Biden administration to rethink U.S. trade policy to explicitly address impacts that have proven to be disparately worse for Black and Latino workers.”