An October report released by the Alliance for American Manufacturing argues that while the loss of manufacturing capacity has—and continues to—hurt communities like Pittsburgh; Youngstown, Ohio; Chicago, Ill.; and Flint, Mich., it has hurt African Americans in those communities with disproportionate intensity.
Partly due to historical inequities in housing, educational and economic opportunities, the cascade of closing businesses and lost tax revenue that followed the demise of the steel industry in the 1980s, left Black families without the means to escape the steadily deteriorating industrial centers that had been their livelihood.
“Fractured by urban decay, White flight, poverty, segregation, crime and mass incarceration, deindustrialized communities came to resemble war-torn battlefields rather than places of residence,” writes report author Gerald Taylor.
“Indeed, for much of the past several decades, deindustrialized communities like Baltimore, Detroit and Flint seem to have been some of the best places in the country for watching Black families struggle and die.”
The causes are myriad and interrelated, global trade agreements incentivizing outsourcing, high-tech manufacturing techniques that require fewer, more highly trained workers, and dumping—selling products like steel well below market value—particularly by China after its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.
And though the report’s recommendations include increased job training for Blacks in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields, it also notes that relying on high-tech manufacturing, by itself, will not be enough:
“It should be noted that high-tech and high-skill jobs like those required to produce aircraft, spacecraft, optical equipment, pharmaceuticals and precision scientific instruments have come under fire because of the increasingly global nature of the economy. The National Science Board estimates that over 200,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs were lost between 2008 and 2014.”
The report recommends a three-pronged strategy to address the issues that have resulted from deindustrialization. First, it calls for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, lest more cities and towns face turn into Flint, Mich.
In its most recent survey, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure a D+ (“Poor: At Risk”), meaning that overall, American infrastructure is “in poor to fair condition,” “mostly below standard,” and “exhibits significant deterioration.”
The Unmade report agrees with their recommendation that Washington spend $200 billion over the next four years, which would bring the grade up to a B (Good). Not only would such an investment create thousands of high-paying construction and manufacturing jobs in the short term, it would also yield long term benefits such as increased land value, economic growth, energy efficiency, and improved public health.
There is a caveat however, to be truly beneficial, these projects must be instituted under “Buy America” guidelines, meaning all materials used must be American made.
Secondly, workforce development must increase, but in meaningful and coordinated manner, lest an estimated 875,000 high-skilled manufacturing jobs go unfilled in the next four years due to a massive skills gap.
Lastly the report recommends that Washington begin advancing “worker-friendly” trade policies, beginning by addressing dumping and currency manipulation.
(For more on the report visit http://www.americanmanufacturing.org.)
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