African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Bill Clinton, Bureau of Labor Statistics, campaign finance reform, Center for Economic Policy Research, China, free trade agreements, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Im-Politic, manufacturing jobs, offshoring, poverty, race relations, sexism, trade policy, World Trade Organization
Truth in advertising: I have a lot of respect for Bernie Sanders and very little for Hillary Clinton. Still, here’s some data that I believe even many Clinton supporters will agree undermines her claim that her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination is a “single-issue candidate”whose obsessive focus on economic inequality and its roots in a money-drenched political system is ignoring crucial issues of racial and gender discrimination.
The data come from the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the private Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), and they make clear the harm done to African Americans by decades-long American trade policies that the former Secretary of State has strongly backed for most of her career, and the Democratic Socialist Senator from Vermont has consistently opposed.
According to a 2008 CEPR report, in 1979, blacks made up 23.9 percent of the workforce in American manufacturing, which is the part of the economy most extensively exposed to foreign competition. By 2007, this figure had sunk to 9.8 percent. And BLS data place this share at 9.7 percent as of last year.
Although there’s still by no means a consensus among economists concerning trade policy’s responsibility for manufacturing job loss, even this historically free trade-worshiping group of scholars keeps producing more and more evidence indicating that its share is considerable. So the above statistics make clear that African-Americans have taken an outsized hit both from Washington’s longstanding pursuit of trade agreements that have inevitably fostered production- and job offshoring, and from its equally longstanding failure to combat predatory foreign trade policies effectively.
The price paid by African Americans becomes even clearer when these percentages are translated into raw numbers. Based on the CEPR and BLS data, in 1979, 4.61 million blacks worked in U.S.-based manufacturing. Last year, this number had plunged to 1.49 million.
It’s important to note that some uncertainty surrounds this 2015 figure, because it’s based on one set of BLS data that peg the domestic manufacturing workforce at just under 15.34 million. These numbers come from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which uses answers from American households. My figure for 1979 comes from CEPR’s number of blacks’ percent of the manufacturing workforce, and from BLS total manufacturing workforce figures based on BLS’ own Current Employment Statistics. These use answers from American employers. The CES numbers peg the domestic manufacturing workforce at just over 12.30 million for 2015 – considerably lower than the CPS figure.
I wasn’t able to find an absolute number of 1979 manufacturing workers per the CPS methodology (crowd-sourcing hint!) but it’s difficult to imagine that the overall trend of disproportionate black manufacturing job loss would change significantly. And if something like three-plus million African Americans lost manufacturing jobs over the last four decades, does anyone – including Ms. Clinton’s supporters – believe that the impact on black employment and wage levels – wasn’t devastating? Does anyone believe that these policy failures didn’t play a huge role in turning Rust Belt cities with big African American populations – like Flint, Michigan – from centers of industry into centers of poverty? And that family break-up and related social ills in the black community weren’t greatly aggravated by the employment crisis suffered by the only sector of the economy with an historical record of enabling millions of working class Americans to lead middle-class lives?
Starting this exercise in the late 1970s, moreover, is important because that’s when the American economy began opening wide to foreign competition. It also makes possible showing how blacks in manufacturing fared during the 1990s, a period lauded by Ms. Clinton as an economic golden age flowered under her husband, President Bill Clinton. But it was also a time when President Clinton spearheaded the first great wave of post-Cold War American free trade agreements.
Between the first year of Clinton’s presidency, in 1993, and the last, in 2000, the black share of American manufacturing workers fell from 16.5 percent to 13.6 percent. That’s a 17.58 percent fall-off. During the same period, the share of the overall U.S. workforce employed in manufacturing declined from 17 percent to 15.1 percent. That decrease was a much smaller 11.18 percent. Moreover, these data are all from the CEPR report, so it’s apples-to-apples.
During the ensuing administration of George W. Bush, black manufacturing job loss was even worse (21.6 percent), though this performance in part represented the hammering the entire manufacturing workforce suffered between 2001 and 2007 (19.44 percent of jobs eliminated). But even these numbers reflect poorly on the Clinton record. For it’s increasingly agreed that much of this manufacturing jobs massacre resulted from Mr. Clinton’s late-1990s decision to back admitting China into the World Trade Organization. It signaled to offshoring-happy American multinational companies that they could send floods of factories and jobs to the People’s Republic without fear of new U.S. tariffs on their U.S.-bound exports if the volumes became overwhelming.
Nothing in this post should be taken for agreement with the fundamental Clinton camp portrayal of Sanders as a Bernie-One-Note. But even if they were right, economic inequality – and its roots in the dangerously large role of money in American politics that’s produced a wide range of shortsighted and downright destructive policies, including on the trade front – is one heck of a big, loud note.
For although there’s no legitimate doubt that racial and ethnic minorities, and women, face their own distinctive problems in American society and the U.S. economy today, it’s equally clear that Sanders’ priorities, if executed well, would go far toward solving the most serious problems facing all these groups – not to mention the entire population. Ironically, during his first run for the White House, in 1992, Ms. Clinton’s husband recognized the need to focus “like a laser beam” on the economy – when it was in much better shape. There’s a strong case that her own campaign this year could benefit from taking that advice.