New Research from Groundwork Collaborative Shows Impact of Trade on Black Workers, Economy

June 21, 2021

New Research from Groundwork Collaborative Shows Impact of Trade on Black Workers, Economy 

The authors, including Dr. William Spriggs of Howard University, examine how U.S. trade policies interact with a fundamentally broken labor market to harm Black manufacturing workers. 

These results offer a path forward for more equitable trade policies that center workers and communities of color

New research from Groundwork Collaborative highlights how failed U.S. trade policies over the last several decades have disproportionately harmed Black workers. The brief’s authors Grace Western of Groundwork Collaborative, Daniella Zessoules previously of Groundwork Collaborative, and Nyanya Browne, Bethel Cole-Smith, and William Spriggs of Howard University find that U.S. trade policies have had a significant and adverse impact on Black earnings, hiring, and employment. 

“This research is clear evidence of the importance of examining Black worker experiences in policy,  especially trade policy. When our trade policies hurt high wage jobs, they create a contagion vector of labor market pain. Black workers are on the front lines in losses and on the back end of lost opportunities that turn a flu into pneumonia,” said Dr. Spriggs, professor of economics at Howard University and chief economist of the AFL-CIO. “It’s time for a more inclusive vision for U.S. trade policy that centers Black workers and builds quality jobs for everyone.”

The brief outlines how decades of neoliberal trade policies have increased corporate power at the expense of workers’ economic security and the broader economy. At the same time, systemic racism ensures that Black workers are continuously disproportionately harmed by corporations’ outsized power in the labor market. 

“It comes as no surprise to the Black workforce that the 405,679 jobs lost to China have disproportionately impacted their jobs. Organized labor like the UAW has long led in integrated worksites for good paying union wage and benefit jobs. So when these jobs are offshored for lower wages, the Black workforce disproportionately suffers,” said Rory Gamble, president of the United Auto Workers. “The fact that for every one percent increase of imported goods, Black earnings decreased by almost four percent is staggering. It has contributed to lack of wage growth in the Black community and costs our nation every day in the price of services for struggling American families. Strong trade policies and incentives to on-shore jobs in the United States is the single most powerful anti-poverty program we can have.”

While existing research looks at the impact of trade on local labor markets, these studies rarely disaggregate data by race, leaving incomplete answers to the question of how trade has impacted workers of color. 

In addition to groundbreaking research, the brief offers a new vision and framework for trade and broader economic policy that centers Black workers and communities, including greater transparency in policy making when it comes to racial disparities; stronger labor and environmental standards; and a new approach to trade that centers workers and communities of color. 

“Black workers are bearing the brunt of failed trade policies that deepen long-standing inequities in the labor market,” said Dr. Rakeen Mabud, managing director of research and policy and chief economist at Groundwork.“But, the U.S. trade agenda has significant potential to build powerful foundations for a strong economy for us all while centering the economic experiences of Black workers.” 

You can read the full brief on Groundwork’s website here.


About Groundwork 

The Groundwork Collaborative’s mission is to advance an economic vision for strong, broadly shared prosperity and true opportunity for all. Learn more at