Black Workers Were Also Hurt by Factory Job Loss — Even More Than Their White Counterparts

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

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

One of the chief narratives from the 2016 presidential campaign is that President Trump was propelled to victory because of white working class voters in industrial states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

There likely is some truth to that. But what that narrative often leaves out is the fact that black communities in cities across the United States also have seen devastating factory job loss in recent decades — and in many instances, those communities have struggled to recover even more so than other areas.

The Atlantic recently examined the impact of manufacturing job loss in black neighborhoods in Chicago as part of a story on the divide between rich and poor in the Windy City. While Chicago’s downtown has attracted big-name companies and a college-educated workforce, things remain bleak in the city’s black neighborhoods.

Chicago’s legacy of segregation is one reason, and decisions by city officials to pour money into downtown made that problem worse. But another reason is the loss of manufacturing:

“Half a century ago, people with little education could find good jobs in the behemoths that dotted Chicago’s south and west sides. Now, most of those factories have moved overseas or to the suburbs, and there are fewer employment opportunities … Chicago underscores that it’s not just white, rural Americans who have been hard hit by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs.”

Indeed, black manufacturing workers often struggled more than their white counterparts when factories closed up shop, as Alliance for American Manufacturing research fellow Gerald Taylor examined in his 2016 report, Unmade in America: Industrial Flight and the Decline of Black Communities.

Manufacturing in the 20th century provided new opportunities for many black workers. Although black Americans still faced discrimination, working in manufacturing allowed many of them to do things like buy houses, save a little money and build vibrant communities. For the first time, many black families moved into the middle class.

But when manufacturing jobs began to offshore, America’s black communities were hit especially hard, Taylor found. More black workers found themselves unemployed than white workers and stayed unemployed for longer.

On top of that, black Americans faced unique challenges such as housing discrimination — meaning that while laid off white workers could move to new communities for work, black workers often found themselves stuck. And as The Chicago Maroon points out, while many white workers were offered government-sponsored retraining after losing their jobs, “after the plants in black areas left, there were no such retraining efforts.” 

All of this has led to devastation in many black communities, according to Taylor:

“As black families attempted to adjust to this strained existence, the cities and towns in which they lived also struggled to remain financially solvent. Industrial centers tended to be small and not economically diverse … As such, when their manufacturing bases began to erode—along with the associated income and property tax revenue—these communities were often left ill-equipped to maintain their infrastructure, as well as vital public services.”

So what are the potential solutions?

Taylor outlined a few in his report, including infrastructure investment and worker-friendly trade policies. He also advocated for a big increase in workforce training, which must be coupled with outreach to the black community and financial support to ensure people can pay for the training.

Millions of American workers have suffered over the past several decades when companies moved production overseas, and as a result many fell out of the middle class. This should be a concern to policymakers, who must find ways to strengthen American manufacturing and create more jobs — which still provide better pay and benefits than other sectors, we’ll point out.

But we do a disservice when we further the narrative that only white, working class Americans were hurt by manufacturing job loss. Black manufacturing workers were hit especially hard by industrial flight, and black communities in places like Chicago, St. Louis, Birmingham, Baltimore and Pittsburgh continue to struggle as a result.   


Reposted from the 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