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New Data Analysis Reveals Black and Latino Workers Disproportionately Harmed by U.S. Trade Policies

Fight Against Racial Injustice Must Include Trade Policy Fix

For Immediate Release: January 8, 2020
Contact: Matthew Groch, mgroch@citizen.org, (202) 454-5111

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Past U.S. trade policies have had a disproportionately negative impact on Black and Latino workers, according to new research published today by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. While decades of corporate-rigged trade policies have harmed many American workers of all races and ethnicities, Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in industries and concentrated in regions that were hardest hit, according to a new analysis of U.S. government data in Trade Discrimination: The Disproportionate, Underreported Damage to U.S. Black and Latino Workers From U.S. Trade Policies.

“We’ve known U.S. trade policies over the past few decades have been devastating to working-class families in general and working-class families of color in particular,” said Dr. Lester Spence, professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “This devastating report tells many of us our eyes aren’t lying: To COVID-19, and policing, we can add trade policies to the growing list of factors that significantly diminish the lives of working-class people of color.”

In his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump hijacked progressives’ critique of corporate globalization and offshoring, but reframed it into a narrative of resentment with racialized appeals to white working-class voters. White non-college educated workers were also the Americans identified by the press as those hit hardest by the “China Shock”. That conventional wisdom is challenged by this report, which shows how the trade-related decline of U.S. manufacturing disproportionately hit racial minorities, particularly African Americans.

“I’ve seen firsthand the impact that our failed trade policies have on working men and women all across the country. And I have seen how communities of color are overly impacted by our manufacturing jobs being sent overseas so that we can continue to make the corporate elite super-rich on the backs of black and brown factory workers,” said Chuck Rocha, president of Solidarity Strategies, advisor to the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign, and author of Tio Bernie.  “I went to work in a tire factory in East Texas when I was 19, joining my father and 10 others of my Latino family members. That factory now sits in China because of our failed trade policies that have destroyed the lives of all the working men and women who worked with me and my father.”

The report also reveals how the trade-related destruction of manufacturing jobs increased competition for a reduced number of well-paying jobs available for non-college-educated workers, underlying structural racial discrimination in hiring, promotions, and wages was exacerbated such that, even in the absence of trade impacts, Black and Latino workers received lower wages relative to similarly educated non-Latino white workers. And among the 58% of Americans without college degrees, Black and Latino workers are overrepresented relative to their share of the workforce with 68% of Black Americans and 77% of Latino Americans not having college degrees, compared to 54% of the white population.

“We saw what happened with NAFTA: workers were devastated. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of workers that have been left without jobs throughout the United States, not only in the Midwest but also in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Texas, where the whole garment industry was totally destroyed,” said Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree.

“Whether these working-class voters of diverse races and ethnicities will stick with the Democratic Party depends on whether their lives and livelihoods measurably improve over the next four years, which means the Biden administration must enact economic policies designed to do just that and break from the corporate-rigged, job-killing trade policies supported by Republican and Democratic presidents alike over the past few decades,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The full report is available here, including a comprehensive executive summary with findings including:

  • Black and Latino workers were disproportionately represented in nine out of the ten manufacturing industries that were hardest by import competition and offshoring, with the percentages of Black and Latino workers in these industries being greater than their representation in the overall workforce.
  • The explosion of deficits in highly trade-impacted manufacturing industries — along with the offshoring threat — also contributed to the stagnation of wages in sectors employing significant numbers of Black and Latino workers.
  • Black and Latino workers are also disproportionately represented in call center and customer service jobs that have faced mass offshoring in the past decade.
  • The 20 U.S. states that are least racially diverse had only 20% of all government-certified trade job losses during the NAFTA-WTO era.
  • States and cities with the largest Black and Latino populations have been hardest hit by the economic and social fallout of failed U.S. trade policies.
  • Just 15 U.S. states that are home to 85% of the total Latino population account for half of TAA-certified trade-related job losses — 1.6 million of the more than 3.2 million U.S. jobs lost — from the start of the NAFTA-WTO era in 1994 to the latest TAA certifications covering most of 2019.
  • The 15 states that are home to 58% of the Black population account for 2.9 million of the 4 million total manufacturing job losses documented by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics during the NAFTA-WTO era.
  • Many cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, and Cleveland that were hardest hit by U.S. trade policy failures were locations whose growing manufacturing employment opportunities had drawn six million Black workers fleeing from racial terror and poverty in the Jim Crow South for safety and better economic opportunities in the first half of the 1900s.
  • Latino and Black workers who lose their jobs are even less likely than their white counterparts to find a replacement job. When Black and Latino workers found new jobs after losing manufacturing jobs and, they faced disproportionate pay cuts.
  • Increased competition for a reduced number of well-paying jobs available for non-college-educated workers exacerbates underlying structural racial discrimination in hiring, promotions, and wages that, even in the absence of trade impacts, have resulted in lower wages for Black and Latino workers relative to similarly educated non-Latino white workers. For instance, in manufacturing Latino and Black workers’ wages are, respectively, about 25% and 23% lower compared to white workers’ wages.
  • After 25 years of the NAFTA-WTO model, large racial wage gaps remain for men and are worse for women. The wage premium offered by manufacturing is a particularly important factor, given the racial wage gap that exists across all sectors.
  • Wealth inequality also has worsened over the NAFTA-WTO era with disproportionate damage to Black and Latino families. The states that have large Black and Latino populations also strikingly correlate with those with higher income inequality levels.