Press Release Unions

Decline in U.S. Manufacturing Hurts African Americans Disproportionately

February 26, 2008

Contact: Karen Conner, (202) 293-5380 x117Mail_Outline

February 26, 2008

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2008
Contact: Alan Barber, 202-293-5380 x115

Washington DC — African-American workers have been particularly hard hit by the decline in U.S. manufacturing, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).  In 1979, almost one-in-four black workers in the United States had a manufacturing job. Today, fewer than one-in-ten black workers are in manufacturing.

The report, “The Decline in African-American Representation in Unions and Manufacturing, 1979-2007,” by senior economist John Schmitt and senior research associate Ben Zipperer, details the simultaneous sharp decline in both black employment in manufacturing and the unionization rates of black workers.

“Manufacturing jobs, particularly unionized jobs in the auto industry, were an important part of what built the black middle class after World War II,” said John Schmitt, a co-author of the report.

Today, only 15.7 percent of all black workers are union members or covered by a union contract at their workplace. Twenty-five years ago, that share was 31.7 percent. Part of the reason for the decline in unionization among African Americans is the decline in U.S. manufacturing. But even within manufacturing, unionization rates have been falling. On average, manufacturing workers are now no more likely to be in a union than workers in the rest of the economy.

The study, which analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, found that the share of African Americans in manufacturing jobs fell from 23.9 percent in 1979 to 9.8 percent last year. From 1983 to 2007, unionization rates among African Americans dropped from 31.7 to 15.7 percent. Unionization rates also dropped among whites (from 22.2 to 13.5 percent) and Hispanics (24.2 to 10.8 percent) during the same period, but the declines were not as steep as those for African Americans.


The Center for Economic and Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives. CEPR’s Advisory Board of Economists includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University; and Eileen Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.

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