Companies often tout globalization as the necessary means to compete in a hyper-competitive economy, but new research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) suggests many people of color — including Black workers — have paid a heavy price during the past few decades.
Even at a time when the debate over federal policies and legislative bills such as Build Back Better have fostered plenty of vitriol but little in the way of long-term, sustainable and fair solutions, the numbers surrounding the decline of U.S. manufacturing alone should spur both business leaders and policymakers to think ahead and consider bolder ideas so that everyone has a fair stake in the 21st-century economy.
Disappearing jobs = Black workers losing good wages
Let’s start with the raw numbers: EPI concluded that between 1998 and 2020, almost 650,000 Black workers within the wider manufacturing sector lost their jobs in the U.S.
That number translates into more than a 30 percent decline in Black manufacturing employment since the late 1990s — and the millions of lost manufacturing jobs have meant the end of higher wages that are not available in sectors such as the retail or foodservice industries. Black workers still employed in manufacturing earn over $5,000 a year more than they would if they were employed within non-manufacturing jobs, with the difference in wages almost 18 percent.
For those who felt resigned to work in the service industry due to the lack of decent paying jobs in manufacturing, the COVID-19 crisis gave many of them a huge jolt.
One outcome of the pandemic and Great Resignation is that more workers have been planning their exit strategies from service jobs, in part because the low wages have clearly not been worth the health risks. Other reasons include irregular work schedules and the specter of unpleasant — if not violent — encounters with customers. Many hurdles for these workers to find greener pastures, however, remain.
Can the tech industry offer a new beginning for service workers?
Programs such as technology bootcamps offer a promising alternative for more workers, as they can learn valuable skills without the huge investments in time and money that are required to complete a college degree. And companies have shown interest in hiring from this pool of newly minted tech workers. In fact, many companies within the service industry, such as Domino’s and Target, are seeking employees for their growing information technology teams as they gravitate toward a digital-first strategy.
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But the technology sector has also been slow on hiring a more diverse workforce — the stubborn reality even after the summer of 2020, a time when many tech companies made bold promises in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Therein lies opportunities for companies who will follow through on considering everyone fairly when it comes to hiring. “While tech firms that have fallen behind on diversity are losing workers, the Great Resignation has created a massive opportunity for all that underutilized, under-compensated talent to flow to companies that truly embrace a diverse workforce, potentially increasing diversity and opportunities across the industry,” Thomas Smith, CEO for the technology company Gado Images, wrote in a recent article for Medium.
Long-term challenges that are short on answers
So, what can offer a lift to Black workers who seek a new career, wish to get out of the service industry, but may not see a tech job as a viable option? At a higher level, EPI insists that more investments in infrastructure, manufacturing capacity and climate change mitigation plans can help generate solid jobs for all U.S. workers; that is, if such programs are paired with smarter and fairer international trade policies. “When implemented with clearly defined racial and gender equity goals, these investments can help raise living standards for men and women workers of color without a college degree,” EPI concluded.
Finally, EPI offers a reminder that the U.S. trade deficit isn’t an abstraction but has real consequences. “Globalization of our economy, driven by unfair trade, failed trade and investment deals, and, most importantly, currency manipulation and systematic overvaluation of the U.S. dollar over the past two decades has resulted in growing trade deficits,” concluded EPI’s researchers, adding that ballooning trade deficits “eliminated more than 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs and nearly 70,000 factories.”
Judging by what’s going on in Washington, D.C., however, such plans for the long run will not occur any time soon. As independent journalist Judd Legum recently observed, many of the same U.S. companies who tout their work on diversity, equity and fair hiring are also actively involved in scuttling any federal legislation that would level the playing field for all Americans, including Black workers.
Image credit: Field Engineer via Pexels
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.