Trade Discrimination

The Disproportionate, Underreported Damage to U.S.
Black and Latino Workers from U.S. Trade Policies

The damage caused by the corporate-led hyperglobalization that has been implemented over the past decades by “trade” agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and NAFTA-style free trade agreements (FTAs) has been well documented – from mass job outsourcing to unreliable supply chains to downward pressure on wages to weakened consumer and environmental protections.

As a candidate, Donald Trump hijacked progressives’ critique of corporate globalization and job outsourcing to target  white working-class voters. This followed on the “China Shock” research conducted by MIT Professor David Autor and others that showed the lasting impact on specific regions of the country from the loss of millions of U.S. jobs related to trade with China. Prominent press coverage of Autor’s work and Trump’s election focused on white non-college educated workers as suffering the worst damage from corporate-led hyperglobalization. However, the emprical data and the documented disproportionate impact that the decline of manufacturing in the United States has had on minorities—with a special focus on African Americans—challenge the conventional wisdom.

While decades of corporate-rigged trade policies have harmed many American workers of all races and ethnicities,  Black and Latino workers who lost jobs from NAFTA, the agreements enforced by the WTO and the “China Shock” following China’s entry into the WTO, have assumed a disproportionately large share of the harm inflicted by these deals. U.S. government data—despite its shortcomings as to the recognition of the complexities of race and ethnicity[1] show that these two groups were concentrated  in the regions and overrepresented in the industries that were hit hardest.

For instance, the data do not recognize the overlap between categories such as Black and Latino or that African American might not encompass all of the Black population in the country.

The damage caused by the corporate-led hyperglobalization that has been implemented over the past decades by “trade” agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and NAFTA-style free trade agreements (FTAs) has been well documented – from mass job outsourcing to unreliable supply chains to downward pressure on wages to weakened consumer and environmental protections.

As a candidate, Donald Trump hijacked progressives’ critique of corporate globalization and job outsourcing to target  white working-class voters. This followed on the “China Shock” research conducted by MIT Professor David Autor and others that showed the lasting impact on specific regions of the country from the loss of millions of U.S. jobs related to trade with China. Prominent press coverage of Autor’s work and Trump’s election focused on white non-college educated workers as suffering the worst damage from corporate-led hyperglobalization. However, the emprical data and the documented disproportionate impact that the decline of manufacturing in the United States has had on minorities—with a special focus on African Americans—challenge the conventional wisdom.

While decades of corporate-rigged trade policies have harmed many American workers of all races and ethnicities,  Black and Latino workers who lost jobs from NAFTA, the agreements enforced by the WTO and the “China Shock” following China’s entry into the WTO, have assumed a disproportionately large share of the harm inflicted by these deals. U.S. government data—despite its shortcomings as to the recognition of the complexities of race and ethnicity[1] show that these two groups were concentrated  in the regions and overrepresented in the industries that were hit hardest.

[1] For instance, the data do not recognize the overlap between categories such as Black and Latino or that African American might not encompass all of the Black population in the country.

The findings in this report on relative wage levels and wealth also show that U.S. structural, race-based social and economic inequities that undermine the economic and social welfare of people of color have been further exacerbated by dislocations caused by U.S. trade policies.

This report expands on the U.S. aspect of the research we published in late 2018 about NAFTA’s negative impact on working people in Mexico and on U.S. Latinos and the grim scenario facing the many Mexicans who migrated to the United States for work after NAFTA destroyed their livelihoods to now face racist, hateful attacks from Donald Trump and increasingly precarious work conditions.[i] This report shows that among U.S. workers hurt by decades of corporate-designed trade policies, Black and Latino workers have suffered disproportionate injury:

The manufacturing sector

The percentage of Black and Latino Americans working in key manufacturing sectors is greater than overall representation in the U.S. population.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black workers have lost nearly half a million manufacturing jobs (494,000) during the NAFTA-WTO era. Black workers comprised 12.3% of the overall labor force in 2019, but 17.2% of the workforce in motor vehicle and equipment manufacturing, 20.3% of paper mills, 18.7% of tire manufacturing and 14.3% of food manufacturing. Latino workers are 17.6% of the overall labor force, but 29.7% of workers in food manufacturing, 24.1% of cement manufacturing and 23.4% of the textile manufacturing labor force.

Black and Latino workers

are disproportionately represented in call center and customer service jobs that have been subject to mass outsourcing.
People of color account for 43% of U.S. workers engaged as customer service representatives. Over the past 25 years, 71,788 U.S. jobs are TAA-certified as lost to trade with the Philippines, which has been the country of choice for call center outsourcing. Some 58,220 of the U.S. jobs certified as lost to the Phillipines are designated as explicitly lost to outsourcing.

Black and Latino workers

were disproportionately represented in manufacturing industries that have been hit hardest by outsourcing.
For Latino workers, this includes the furniture, chemicals, electronics, food products, textiles and apparel sectors. Latino workers lost 138,000 jobs in the apparel and textiles industry and 123,000 jobs in the electronics industry during the NAFTA-WTO period. Black workers’ manufacturing losses were more evenly spread across sub-sectors than their Latino counterparts. In the automotive sector, by 2010, in just the first 15 years of NAFTA, Black workers had lost 56,524 jobs. Black workers suffered disproportionate 88,000 losses in the metals manufacturing sector. Additionally Black workers lost 10,000 jobs in the household appliance industry and 10,000 in shipbuilding industries during the NAFTA-WTO era.

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.
Those states also represent less than ten percent of total of U.S. manufacturing job losses during the NAFTA-WTO era (only 300,000 the total 4 million) according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.