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Decline In U.S. Manufacturing Hits African-Americans Hardest


Staying with businesses, we're going to spend a few minutes talking about manufacturing jobs. Over the past 40 years, about 7 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared. A new report from an advocacy group funded by both labor groups and manufacturers is saying that these losses have hurt many workers, but they've had a particularly dire impact on African-Americans. The report is called "Unmade In America: Industrial Flight And The Decline Of Black Communities." The group also says that these negative effects can be turned around. They make suggestions to do just that through infrastructure investment, workforce development and so-called worker-friendly trade policies.

Here to tell us more about this is Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, and Gerald Taylor, author of the report. And we started by asking Scott Paul about what changed in American manufacturing.

SCOTT PAUL: What changed was really globalization and competition. And after 2000, we were competing with China head-on, combined with the fact that we've had much slower growth since 2000 than we ever had in the '90s or the '80s. And that lack of growth and the competition with China - and then the economic bet that we placed on the financial services sector to carry us through really didn't pay off. And so that's why a lot of industry is in the situation that it's in right now.

MARTIN: OK, Gerald, one of the things that you say in the piece is that the water crisis in Flint, Mich., which is something that our listeners are very familiar with, is a direct result of the city losing so many manufacturing jobs with the decline of the auto industry. How is that?

GERALD TAYLOR: So you look at something like the flint water crisis, the common explanation of why this happened is that emergency managers were appointed to try and get the city out of the state of fiscal emergency that it was in and they messed up. But when you asked the deeper question, which is why was Flint in a state of emergency in the first place, what you find is essentially the legacy of industrial flight in Flint. You know, in the '70s and '80s, Flint had a very booming auto industry.

And then as this trend away from manufacturing employment was taking place, Flint lost a lot of manufacturing jobs. You know, I think since that booming industry, they've lost tens of thousands - like, over 70,000 manufacturing jobs. And it kicks off this downward spiral where the city loses financial resources, can't keep up with its provision of public resources like infrastructure, police and fire protection and things like that. And there's a downward spiral that happens.

MARTIN: So, Scott, let me ask you about - you know, you have recommendations to reversing this phenomenon. But I do have to point out that your organization is not neutral. It's a research group, but it is an advocacy group. It's a combined sort of entity involving participation by manufacturers and the Steelworkers Union. By definition, your intention is to grow the manufacturing sector. So I do want to hear your recommendations, but I also need people to understand that they do come from a world view.

PAUL: Absolutely. And I would argue that our approaches are pragmatic. They're not philosophical. And I think that investing in infrastructure, investing in training, having a results-based trade policy would get broad support. In addition, I think we need a better system for both training and retraining, one that recognizes the realities of today, that it's probably not an 18-year-old kid. It might be someone who's transitioning at the age of 50. And at the same time, you know, we need a rational trade policy. We're not going to be ripping up our old trade agreements like Donald Trump suggests.

MARTIN: What does a rational trade policy mean?

PAUL: A workers-focused trade policy that's going to create opportunities for them overseas, not just the big companies that do benefit from these. Right now, the benefits don't often come back to the workers in the United States. This administration has, I think, begun to do a good job of enforcing those rules, but we need to turbocharge that in order to give our manufacturing sector a chance.

MARTIN: Well, the argument, I think, that people have made on the other side is that that sounds good in theory but that that actually leads us to stasis and a lack of innovation.

PAUL: I'm not arguing for, like, a '50s assembly line nostalgic view of manufacturing. But I think that there are great opportunities out there and there are going to be inventions that we can't even imagine 10 years from now. And the question is going to be - who's going to make those?

MARTIN: OK, Gerald, before we let you go, we're down to our last couple of minutes here. Is there something that you - you mentioned in the epilogue to your report that you grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and that you kind of witnessed some of these trends yourself firsthand. Is there something in the course of investigating this holistically as a research project that surprised you?

TAYLOR: I think the thing that surprised me the most is that this pattern that we were talking about, this kind of downward spiral that can happen in a city when it loses its manufacturing base - but that's a story that can be told, you know, dozens of times. You know, you look at places, you know, like Detroit and Gary and Pittsburgh or Flint or Milwaukee, Baltimore - like, all of these places which are so often the sites of economic distress and civil unrest now, they have stories like this. And that was one of the things that was really surprising to me, is that, you know, Youngstown is not even close to rare in this way. It's a pattern that's played out over and over.

MARTIN: That was Gerald Taylor, author of the report "Unmade In America: Industrial Flight And The Decline Of Black Communities." We also heard from Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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