A new EPI report finds that the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs has been particularly devastating for Black and Hispanic workers and other workers of color.
Between 1998 and 2020, Black workers experienced the loss of 646,500 good manufacturing jobs. This represents a 30.4% decline in total Black manufacturing employment as part of the overall loss of more than 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs during that time, due to a growing trade deficit in manufactured goods with China, Japan, Mexico, the European Union, and other countries. These job losses were accompanied by a shift toward lower-wage service-sector jobs with fewer benefits and lower rates of unionization than manufacturing jobs.
The loss of jobs offering good wages and superior benefits in manufacturing has narrowed a once viable pathway to the middle class, particularly for workers of color—who represent a disproportionate share of those without a college degree. Black, Hispanic, Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), and white workers without a college degree all earn substantially more in manufacturing than in nonmanufacturing industries. For median-wage, non-college-educated employees, Black workers in manufacturing earn $5,000 more per year (17.9% more) than in nonmanufacturing industries; Hispanic workers earn $4,800 more per year (+17.8%); AAPI workers earn $4,000 more per year (+14.3%); and white workers earn $10,100 more per year (+29.0%).
“Botched policy responses to globalization have decimated manufacturing employment with often overlooked costs for Black, Brown, and other workers of color,” said Valerie Wilson, co-author of the report and director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy. “Policymakers must do more than merely pay lip service to rebuilding our manufacturing industry, and take action to support the growth of good manufacturing jobs that can improve living standards among workers who have suffered higher rates of unemployment and lower wages over the last several decades.”
The report calls for creating millions of good jobs by investing in infrastructure and rebalancing trade. Nearly 7 million jobs would be supported by a four-year, $2 trillion infrastructure and climate change investment program combined with trade and industrial policies that dramatically boost U.S. exports and eliminate the U.S. trade deficit. If implemented with policies to help ensure that workers of color and women can access these jobs, this program would help reduce racial and gender inequities in the job market.
Rebalancing trade, investing in infrastructure, and addressing climate change would help rebalance the economy back from lower-paying service-sector jobs to higher-paying jobs in manufacturing and construction. Essentially all net new jobs created in the economy over the last two decades were in services. In contrast, 45.7% of jobs supported by investing in climate and infrastructure and 40.8% of the jobs supported by rebalancing trade would be in manufacturing and construction.
“The mismanaged integration of the United States into the global economy has devastated U.S. manufacturing workers and their communities. Unfair trade, failed trade and investment deals, and, most importantly, currency manipulation and systematic overvaluation of the U.S. dollar over the past two decades have resulted in growing trade deficits and the loss of millions of good jobs,” said Robert E. Scott, co-author of the report and EPI director of trade and manufacturing policy research. “Investing in infrastructure and rebalancing trade can create good jobs for all.”