A New Study Highlights America’s “Distressed Communities.” Many Saw Big Factory Job Loss.

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

Our friends at the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) released the 2017 Distressed Communities Index last week, a follow-up to their insightful 2016 report that highlights the vast gaps between America's haves and have-nots.

The latest edition is chock-full of data showcasing where the most affulent Americans reside — and where the more than 52 million Americans who are being left behind live. Here's how EIG explains the difference:

"America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity — hubs of innovation and progress seemingly immune to the concerns over automation, globalization, or lack of upward mobility that pervade national headlines. However, outside of those top communities, economic wellbeing is often tenuous at best. And, at worst, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet."

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the top distressed communities are once prosperous places where industry once reigned king, only to see that wealth decline as manufacturing jobs were sent overseas. Cleveland, Newark, N.J., Buffalo, N.Y., Detroit and Toledo, Ohio round out the top five most distressed of America's top 100 cities; Youngstown, Ohio and Trenton, N.J. are the top two most distressed of small and mid-sized cities.

Another interesting finding: Distressed zip codes contain one-third of America's brownfield sites, which are properties that cannot be reused or redeveloped because of pollution or contamination. Often, these are places that hosted heavy industrial activity years or even decades ago. Here's more: 

"In some instances, the site itself tells the story of a community that fell onto hard times when a factory was shuttered or a mine was closed, taking investment and job opportunities with it. Market forces play a role too. Residential property prices tend to be lower in close proximity to industrial areas, for example. The market can thus drive poor populations into neighborhoods that already have brownfields or are predisposed to getting them in the future."

Breaking down the numbers even further, EIG found that minority communities disproportionately reside in distressed areas. Blacks and Native Americans are more likely to live in a distressed zip code than any other type of community and are three times more likely to live in a distressed community than a prosperous one.

These findings, at least for the African-American community, appear to be in line with what Gerard D. Taylor wrote about in the 2016 report Unmade in America, which is that black workers — already at an unfair disadvantage for a whole host of reasons — also disproportionately suffered when major factory job loss took place in the late 20th century and first decade of the 21st.

But Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds live in distressed communities, and EIG found these people are suffering as a result. They die five years sooner compared to Americans in prosperous areas, while mortality rates are 25 percent higher in distressed countries than prosperous ones. Women's health is particularly poor in these places, with women suffering from higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Substance abuse rates are also far higher in distressed communities. 

O.K., I know what you are thinking: I GET IT. I've read enough Chris Arnade articles to know that places that used to have a lot of manufacturing and don't anymore are in pretty rough shape. 

But what the EIG study further confirms is that there is indeed a stark divide between Americans who are doing well in the current economy and Americans — again, more than 52 million of them — who reside in places that are suffering. That problem is driving many of the seemingly unbreakable divides impacting our politics today, and it is going to remain a problem unless something is done about it.

And before you jump into whatever preconceived political notions you have about who is to blame for all this distress, consider that EIG discovered that distressed communities are a bipartisan issue, as Democrats and Republicans both represent large portions of this population.

So, where do we go from here? Well, this is a problem that is decades in the making and it is going to take some time to repair.

Strengthening American manufacturing is a start.

Look, America is never going to return to the assembly line era of the 1950s, when factory employment was at its peak. But manufacturing still has a big role to play in the American economy — and enacting policies to drive innovation and business creation, train workers for the jobs of the future, and create a level-playing field for American manufacturers and workers (like, say, the 1 million people whose job depends on the U.S. steel industry) is how we can begin to bridge the gap.

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Reposted from AAM

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work