200,000 Black Jobs Lost to China

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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Between 2001 and 2007, over 200,000 blacks lost their jobs due to U.S. trade with China, estimates economist Robert E. Scott in “The China Trade Toll.” Further, other research estimates that the average black worker earns about $1,400 less a year because of the downward pressure on wages from trade with less-developed countries. America’s trade policies have been driven by what is most beneficial to economic elites, not what benefits average workers in the U.S. or abroad.

The U.S. trade deficit with China has been growing about 21 percent a year. It increased from $84 billion in 2001 to $262 billion in 2007. There are a number of unfair ways that China achieves this export advantage. China devalues its currency. Currently, the yuan, China’s currency, is about 30 percent below its true value. This devaluation basically puts a 30 percent discount on all Chinese goods. China is very lax with labor and environmental laws. Exploiting workers and the environment is cheaper for businesses than following good labor and environmental practices. The combined effect of these policies produces a large and unfair trade advantage to Chinese goods.

Scott estimates that the overall toll from the U.S. trade deficit with China to be 2.3 million jobs between 2001 and 2007. The job loss for blacks was 10 percent of this amount—about 230,000. Scott concludes his report with these words about what these jobs mean for black and Hispanic communities.
the manufacturing sector provides some of the best jobs available for black and Hispanic workers, who suffer from much lower levels of education and have much lower wages than white workers. Growing China trade deficits are a special tragedy for these workers, who lost more than half a million trade-related jobs between 2001 and 2007 alone.

What is not well understood is that even a job lost in apparel production can be a huge loss for a minority or immigrant worker. Such jobs are more likely to be unionized and to have benefits than alternative jobs outside of manufacturing. A job paying $9 or $10 per hour with benefits, and providing industrial experience, can be a lifeline and provide a ladder out of poverty for such workers. When this worker loses his or her job and the alternative is a near-minimum wage, non-union job, an important pathway out of poverty is washed away.
Asian-American workers also appear to be fairly hard hit by the loss of jobs to China. As computer and electronics jobs leave the U.S. for China, Asian Americans, who are disproportionately in those industries in the U.S., lose jobs.

We need our leaders to force China to stop devaluing its currency. We need fair trade agreements that require common and high labor and environmental standards. Until America has trade agreements with these protections, Americans will continue to lose some of its best jobs. These high-paying jobs with good benefits in the U.S. will find themselves in countries like China where they become low-paying jobs with few benefits. This “race to the bottom” in job quality benefits the rich globally and hurts workers everywhere.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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