Serving their States, Building Potential for the Future

Center for American Women and Politics findings on Women of Color in State Legislatures

When the story of women in 2016 congressional elections was written, the overall number of women serving in Congress remained the same, but the number of women of color grew significantly. Of the 14 new women elected to Congress, nine were women of color. Three new women of color entered the U.S. Senate, expanding the total there from one to four and quadrupling all-time high to serve simultaneously. In the U.S. House of Representatives, six new women of color brought the House total to 34, also an all-time high.

Since state legislatures often serve as pipelines to higher office, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) examined the number of women of color in each state legislature, both as a proportion of women and as a proportion of legislators overall.

Nationally, women of color hold 5.9 percent of all state legislative seats; 23.7 percent of women lawmakers are women of color.

As more policy authority is devolved to states, representation of women and women of color becomes even more important substantively, as well. For example, last minute changes to the American Health Care (ACA replacement) proposal included the option for states to decide on essential benefits, receive Medicaid funding as a block grant, instead of a guaranteed benefit, and require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work. Recent plans to revive an ACA replacement proposal would give states even more authority on aspects of the law.

In other Gender Policy Report posts, ACA impacts on racial disparities in health insurance access and the many ACA provisions that benefit women and LGBTQ populations have been spelled out.

Research tells us that women of color bring their distinctive voices and experiences to elective office.

For example, African American women state legislators have been found to be distinctive from other legislators in their focus on women’s interests and African American interests. A similar pattern is emerging for Latinas in state legislatures.

The state with the largest proportion of women of color among its women legislators is Hawaii (76.2 percent), followed by Texas (62.2 percent), Alabama (60.0 percent), California (57.7 percent) and Mississippi (54.2 percent). Hawaii also has the largest proportion of women of color in its legislature overall (21.1 percent), followed by New Mexico (16.1 percent), New Jersey (15.0 percent), Nevada (14.3 percent) and Maryland (13.8 percent).

At the bottom of the list, three states have no women of color in their legislatures: North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Maine has one woman of color (1.6 percent of all women, .5 percent of all legislators) in its legislature.

Since communities of color have always been underrepresented in government, it’s important to strengthen their presence and impact at every level. We made progress in the recent elections, but we need many more women of color to run and win.

— Debbie Walsh, Director, Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers

— Photo of Representative Susan Allen, one of four Native American women serving in the Minnesota legislature, by Paul Battaglia, Minnesota House Information


Proportion of Women in State Legislatures

*States with the exact same percentages within their category are given the same rank; states with no women of color share the rank of 48.


Additional details:

More information is available about women in state legislatures and women of color in elective office on the CAWP website.

Dine-out Economy Rests on the backs of Women

America loves dining out. In fact, the restaurant industry is among the fastest growing economic sectors in the United States. So popular is the restaurant industry that few of us are aware of its worst kept secret: the subminimum wage for tipped workers. While consumers receive prompt service and delicious food from food service professionals who take great pride in their work, most consumers do not know the extent of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment faced by millions of women in this industry. In the absence of and unlikely prospects for federal action under the Trump administration, the policy changes necessary to end this dehumanizing and gender inequitable status quo are occurring at the state and local levels.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) is an organization I co-founded that advocates on behalf of America’s 12 million restaurant workers. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of tipped workers, among these 12 million, are women. They work in casual dining establishments like Denny’s or The Olive Garden. They are reliant on tips—and thus, the whims of customers—to survive. Financial insecurity is commonplace.

The restaurant industry includes 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the country.

Half of the women in the minimum wage workforce are tipped workers.  Segregation of women, particularly women of color, in these jobs is a major contributor to the gender pay gap.  Servers are twice as likely to use food stamps as the rest of the US workforce, and three times as likely to live in poverty.

In my travels for ROC, I have heard countless horror stories of workplace sexual harassment. These anecdotal reports are backed up by data.

In fact, restaurants are the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the U.S.  Seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, yet 37% of all sexual harassment claims to the EEOC are from the restaurant industry.

Verbal and physical abuse is rampant. Cat calls and inappropriate touching are a regular occurrence. In our survey, 90% of servers said they have experienced sexual behavior that is scary or unwanted; sometimes coming from a regular customer, other times an employer or a coworker.

These are professional women who take pride in their work. Yet, they are among the most vulnerable workers in America. Reliance on tips requires women to perform and dress in gender stereotypical ways (Hooters is one of the most egregious examples, but the reports are rampant from “family restaurants” like the Olive Garden) and dissuades women tipped workers from fighting back. When customers provide the bulk of their wages; pleasing them at all costs becomes an extra strong imperative. Servers and their bosses believe they can make more money if servers are “grab-able.”

Challenging an employer could impact their job status or even their schedules. A week of undesirable shifts means they go home to their children with less money for groceries or diapers.

The demeaning and inequitable consequences of America’s subminimum wage for tipped workers should come as no surprise. The practice is rooted in slavery and racism. As examined in my most recent book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, post-slavery America viewed tipping as a practice fit only for former slaves. Business owners loathed having to pay them. The practice of tipping solved that problem. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of groups like the National Restaurant Association (NRA), this legacy of exploitation persist today through the subminimum wage system.  The federal minimum wage for a tipped worker is just $2.13 per hour and has not changed for more than two decades.

The NRA argues that a tip penalty is a good thing. Experience from seven states that have already established one minimum wage, rather than the two-tiered approach that provides a sub-wage for tipped workers and is codified at the national level, suggest otherwise. In these states, we find that restaurant industries have higher restaurant sales per capita and higher job growth than the 42 states with lower wages for tipped workers.  In these state, tips are not eliminated.  Tipping is a bonus, not a base, and does not decrease when one minimum wage is instituted.

In addition, our survey results show that reports of unwanted or scary sexual behavior are twice as high in states with a two-tiered minimum wage than in those without it.

The federal minimum wage law does require employers to ensure that tips make up the difference between the lower minimum wage and the regular minimum wage. Unfortunately, the US Department of Labor reports an 84% violation rate for this provision.  And even a 100% compliance rate would not address the underlying structural inequalities that result when a largely female workforce must live off tips for any portion of their base wage, leading to exploitation and the worst sexual harassment of any industry.

Our research and experience suggests that such a system does not really work for employers either.  Enforcement of the two-tiered wage system is incredibly burdensome. Proving that workers have met the minimum wage level with their combined hourly wage and tips is challenging and has created tremendous liability. Our research has found that restaurants in New York, a two-tiered minimum wage state, face three times the liability as restaurants in Los Angeles; California has no lower wage for tipped workers. As a result of this increased liability, many high profile New York employers, like Danny Meyer, have voiced their support for the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers or One Fair Wage.

Despite benefits for employers and workers, neither Congressional leadership nor the Trump administration has spoken out in favor of the three federal bills that have been introduced to create one federal minimum wage, leaving it to other levels of government.  Five states are currently considering “One Fair Wage” legislation. If successful, they would join the seven states that have already have addressed the structural inequalities inherent in a two-tiered minimum wage law (see map above).  Without this policy change, we will continue to dine out at the expense of women and the families they increasingly support.

— Saru Jayaraman directs the Goldman School of Public Policy’s Food Labor Research Center at the University of California Berkeley and co-founded and co-directs the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).

— Map produced by Aimee Fritsch, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota

— Photo by Thomas Hawk

Why Deregulation May Be Especially Bad for Women

The Republican party has traditionally sought to reduce regulation on business, and the Trump administration has made such reductions a priority. De-regulation features prominently in its recent budget plan (“America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again”: as a way to save money and restore America’s greatness. By burdening businesses, the document explains, regulations “function much like taxes that unnecessarily inhibit growth and employment” (p. 9).

Thus, the administration has outlined three actions: a federal-level, 60-day “regulatory freeze” on the creation of new rules; the creation of bodies within each federal agency to carry out the new regulatory priorities; and a new requirement that all federal agencies cut two existing regulations for each new one issued.

This Executive Order “konmari” or housecleaning includes a regulatory cost cap of $0 for 2017—any new regulation must be, effectively, costless.

To many, this approach sounds fantastic. Removing regulations on businesses, it is hoped, will relieve employers of the costs of regulatory compliance and allow them to create more jobs, thus improving the economy. But here’s the catch:  many regulations exist to protect people – consumers, employees, and average citizens.

Although it is difficult at this point to predict which regulations are likely to be culled, it seems reasonable that if the “one regulation forward, two regulations back” approach holds, many of the regulations that are discarded are likely to be from OSHA.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the United States Department of Labor, is responsible for enacting many of the regulations related to work. Created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA is charged with assuring “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards.”

OSHA is a likely target for “regulation fishing” for three reasons. First, OSHA exists almost solely to set and enforce standards and regulations. The sheer number of regulations involved in its operation makes the agency a target. Second, OSHA rules constrain businesses, and the cost of business would likely be lower without many OSHA rules. Third, OSHA is not a hugely prominent body in the public consciousness (unlike, for instance, the EPA), and many of OSHA’s individual regulations are so mundane or limited in scope that a widespread public backlash is unlikely to ensue if its rules are cut.

If OSHA rules are discarded, this will hurt workers of all genders, but in starkly different ways. Data, for instance, suggest men and women suffer differentially in workplace accidents.

According to OSHA’s workplace fatality data, there were 1,268 workplace fatalities in fiscal year 2015. Trucks, ladders, collisions, roofs, vehicles, forklifts, and trees were especially deadly, collectively accounting about half of these deaths (624). Only 7% (36) of these are identifiable as women. Changing regulations with regard to industries like construction could, thus, have a very severe effect on men, who are far more likely than women to die on the job.

Yet, gratefully, not all workplace injuries are fatalities. In the same year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 902,160 non-fatal occupational injuries. Though men accounted for just about 62% of these non-fatal injuries in private industry, certain categories of injury appear distinctly gendered. Men, for example, represent far more of the nonfatal workplace injuries associated with dangerous jobs: 91% of nonfatal workplace injuries that result in amputations, 93% of injuries involving trucks, 92% of injuries involving fires or explosions, and 80% of injuries involving getting caught in equipment affected men.

On the other hand, we can identify two categories of workplace injury that distinctly affect women: those related to repetitive work or office work and those involving being injured by another person while on the job.

First, women account for 60% of injuries caused by “repetitive motion, involving microtasks”, 66% of incidents of carpal tunnel syndrome, and 62% of reported tendonitis. Regulations regarding office work and other repetitive motion are distinctly un-sexy, un-prominent rules that are easily presented as unnecessarily burdensome to companies, but dispensing with them would harm female employees disproportionately.

Second, women are far, far more likely than men to be hurt by other people while on the job. In 2015, women accounted for 68% of “intentional injury by another person” and 70% of injuries caused by “injury by person unintentional or intent unknown”, as well as 62% of those caused by “violence and other injuries by persons or animal” while on the job (“animal and insect related incidents” are a separate, fairly gender-balanced category of injury). Violence against women at work is a known issue, but one that still receives less attention that it deserves. In addition to explicit violence, women are likely to be hurt by others because of the jobs they have. Specifically, women account for 81% of injuries in health care and social assistance and 60% in education services.

Nursing assistants are injured more often than workers in any other occupation, according to the BLS, and nursing assistants are primarily women.

Framing regulations as easily dispensed impediments to business—and repeating that rhetoric loudly and often—makes it easy for the public to believe all regulations are drains on the economy. Yet many were created to protect people. Just as we don’t know precisely how well existing regulations work to protect those workers, we cannot know how many additional workplace fatalities or injuries would occur in the absence of current regulations that currently exist. We can only say that their removal would not improve workers’ conditions. Moreover, removing or loosening many of these regulations could easily represent a very gendered policy: men are more likely to be killed at work and more likely to be injured while doing dangerous work, but women suffer much more from routine-use injuries, workplace violence, and other interactions with people. Since these issues are less obviously dangerous, they may be more susceptible to cuts. The de-regulation of workplace safety is very much a women’s rights issue.

— Jane Lawrence Sumner is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota

— Photo by abbamouse

Courts that look like America: Will gains be lost under Trump?

Courts matter—look no further than President Trump’s “travel ban” executive orders, which have been stalled by federal district court judges in three different jurisdictions and by a three-judge federal appellate panel. And as the public considers the importance of the Supreme Court and legislators weigh Trump’s nominee to it, Neil Gorsuch, many journalists, including those with the New York Times and Washington Post, have sought to determine the possible ideological impact of Trump’s appointments to the lower federal courts.  Considering the 18 vacancies on U.S. Courts of Appeals, Washington Post’s analysis indicates that with the exception of the Second and Third Circuits “Trump’s nominations… will not do much to alter the ideological balance on individual courts.” A Ballotpedia analysis shows that federal judges likely to retire (or take senior status) over the next four years were nominated by a Republican president, “lessening the effect of the resulting vacancies on the ideological balance of individual courts.”

Few analyses, though, are focused on how Trump’s decisions will affect demographic diversity within the federal courts. At the end of Obama’s presidency, the U.S. had hit a milestone: only half its federal judges were white men (as the New York Times vividly displayed in February). Legal scholar Sherrilyn Ifill neatly summarizes why the inclusion of women and people of color in these roles matters:

The first, and I think widely accepted, view is that diversity on the bench promotes public confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. The second reason… is a bit more controversial but I think it is important to discuss it openly. That is the view that diversity on the courts enriches judicial decision-making, that the interplay of perspectives of judges from diverse backgrounds and experiences makes for better judicial decision-making, especially on our appellate courts.

Our nation’s federal courts make rulings on virtually every issue that is important to Americans: immigration, corporate malfeasance, medical malpractice, unsafe products, illegal working conditions, civil rights violations, and environmental pollution to name a few. And because the Supreme Court hears only about 100 of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year, decisions made by the twelve Circuit Courts of Appeals are the last word in thousands of cases—some 54,000 cases just last year.

It is impossible to know when and how a judge’s life experiences will contribute to deeper and more multifaceted understanding of the facts in these 54,000 cases, though it is not hard to imagine. Studies show, for instance, that when a three-judge panel ruling on sex discrimination cases includes even a single woman judge, the court is more likely to rule in favor of the plaintiff. This effect is present in cases on issues which female judges “possess information that their male colleagues perceive ‘as more credible and persuasive’ than their own knowledge.” Diversity among judges means making our federal courts look more like the country they sit in judgment of and it can enrich decision-making by bringing new life experiences to the bench.

Of course, the 50% mark is important, but it obscures differences by jurisdiction and type of court. For example, white men comprise 59% of sitting federal appeals court judges, but 80% of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals judges (the least diverse appeals court in the country). Of the currently sitting 232 federal appeals court judges, 26% are women (among them, President Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit).  It has been some 35 years since women could boast being nearly half of all law school graduates, but we are still struggling to maintain a quarter at the appeals court level. Further, just 10 of the 232 (4% of the total) are women of color, and of those, half sit on just one appeals court—the Ninth Circuit. Of that total 232, 10% (24 judges) are men of color. Five appeals courts have no women of color, and one has no men of color.

Much has been made of Senate Republicans’ refusal to advance the Obama-era nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court (and Democrats vow to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination), but many appeals court nominees, even those supported by Republican senators, have languished on the Senate floor, too. Many would have advanced judicial diversity.  They included Rebecca Haywood, who would have become the first African-American woman on the Third Circuit, Jennifer Puhl, who would have become only the second woman ever to serve on the Eighth Circuit and the first woman to be an Article III judge in North Dakota, and Lucy Koh, who would have been the first Korean-American on any Circuit Court.

All this leaves the Trump administration with 18 openings. Two openings in the Eighth Circuit provide an opportunity to improve its “least diverse” standing. The Third and Fifth Circuits both have three openings and no current women of color.

In making its picks to fill these vacancies, the Trump Administration—if it acts according to custom–will be constrained by the Senate, specifically by the views of senators on the Judiciary Committee and the home-state senators where circuit seats are situated.  Specific circuit seats are historically tied to a state within that circuit, and the Senators from those states (most importantly, but not exclusively, those aligned with the President’s party) recommend candidates to the White House for consideration. So, a Senator’s vetting process is crucial for determining the diversity of candidates who will move forward. In Texas, where the Fifth Circuit openings originate, Senators Cruz and Cornyn will use a Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee (with members they have appointed) to vet the six candidates rumored to be under consideration (all of them men).

According to Brookings, “Senate Judiciary Committee leadership says it will continue not processing judicial nominations unless both home-state senators of either party return favorable ‘blue slips’ approving a nominee. Home-state Democratic senators may hard bargain with the administration about nominees, as did Republican senators during the Obama administration, creating more and longer nominee-less vacancies.”  If continued, this “blue slip” process will give Democratic senators some power over appointments, since 12 of the 18 vacancies are in states with at least one current Democratic senator. Two of these 12 vacancies are on the “least diverse” Eighth Circuit, where Minnesota’s two Democratic senators (who both sit on the Judiciary Committee) will have some power to change that statistic.

While the two candidates making the final cut for Trump’s Supreme Court nomination were conventional, conservative white men, arguably bringing little in the way of different life or professional experiences to the Supreme Court, it is not yet clear how the White House will process lower court appointments and who will be influential.  At the Cabinet level, public and legislator pressure was at least partially responsible for the withdrawal of Secretary of Labor nominee Puzder and push-back regarding a Latino-free cabinet may have influenced the choice of successor Alex Acosta. If the public and legislators demand diversity, that pressure could help determine the composition and collective wisdom of our lower federal courts.

Debra Fitzpatrick, Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Carol Chomsky, Professor of Law, University of Minnesota

— Photo by justwhack

Implications of ACA Repeal and Replace for the Health Insurance Coverage Gap

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid and established health insurance exchanges for people to purchase private health insurance with subsidies. This led to significant gains in health insurance.  Between 2013 and 2015, the rate of health insurance among non-elderly Americans increased 5.8 percentage points, and an estimated 17.6 million more non-elderly Americans had health insurance.

Gains in health insurance were particularly strong for groups that have had historically high rates of uninsurance, such as people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. If the ACA is repealed and replaced by a Republican health care reform bill, it is widely expected that these coverage gains will erode or be lost entirely. Previous posts to the Gender Policy Report have focused on the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its possible repeal on fertility among Latinas, on women’s health care and coverage, and on women and LGBTQ individuals. In this post, we examine gains in health coverage by race/ethnicity with an eye to the potential loss in coverage if the most recent Republican plan[1] to repeal and replace the ACA were implemented. This post draws on SHADAC’s analysis of the National Health Interview Survey and is limited to non-elderly adults (aged 0–64).Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans have had the largest gains in coverage since ACA implementation

The populations of Americans identifying as Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, or African American experienced the largest increases in insurance coverage in the period after implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2013. Rates of coverage had been stable before 2013.

The population of Americans identifying as Hispanic or Latino had the lowest rates of insurance coverage before the ACA and the largest gains in coverage after ACA implementation. After remaining stable from 2011 to 2013, rates of insurance coverage among Hispanics/Latinos increased by 9.3 percentage points, meaning 6.3 million more non-elderly Hispanics/Latinos had insurance coverage in 2015 than in 2013. Asian Americans and African Americans also gained health coverage under the ACA with increases in rates of insurance coverage of 7.2 and 6.6 percentage points, respectively.

The gap in coverage rates between populations of color and whites narrowed historically under the ACA

As shown in Figure 1, all groups experienced increases in rates of coverage. This increase in coverage resulted in a historic narrowing of the gap in coverage between whites and populations of color between 2013 and 2015, with all represented racial/ethnic groups experiencing a reduction in the coverage gap (Figure 2).

The gap between Hispanics/Latinos and whites narrowed the most—4.8 percentage points between 2013 and 2015—though the rate of coverage among Hispanics/Latinos is still lower than among other racial/ethnic groups (Figure 3).

Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans gained coverage through programs cut most significantly under ACA repeal and replacement

The ACA’s largest impacts on health coverage came through its expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income childless adults in 35 states and the creation of tax credits to help low- and middle-income families purchase individual-market coverage. These programs contributed substantially to the narrowing of the gap in health coverage between populations of color and whites.

The recent Republican plan to repeal and replace the ACA makes dramatic cuts to the Medicaid program and its expansion and substantially reduces the size of tax credits to help families and individuals purchase individual-market coverage. If implemented, these changes would likely have a disproportionate impact on individuals who gained health coverage through these new programs or currently rely on the pre-ACA Medicaid program that the Republican bill cuts, many of whom are people of color.

Since 2013, non-elderly Latinos and Asian Americans experienced gains in Medicaid coverage of 4.1 and 3.8 percentage points, respectively. These gains in Medicaid coverage are most likely the result of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, though some may also come from new enrollment in traditional Medicaid programs (i.e. the “welcome mat” effect). Groups like Latinos and Asian Americans that made larger gains under Medicaid expansion are potentially more vulnerable to losing coverage if that program were to be rolled back as it is in the recent Republican bill (Figure 4).

The recent Republican health reform bill repeals the ACA’s income-based tax credits and replaces them with flat, age-based tax credits. This change would make individual-market health insurance far less affordable for low- and middle-income individuals and families, many of whom are people of color. Non-elderly Asian Americans, Latinos, and African Americans would be more vulnerable to losing coverage under the recent Republican plan, since these groups experienced larger gains in individual-market coverage than whites or individuals identifying with multiple races or with some other race (Figure 5).

Further, while non-elderly Latinos, African Americans, and the population of individuals identifying with multiple or some other racial group experienced significant gains in employer-sponsored health coverage (ESI), they are less likely than whites to have ESI, one of the sources of coverage least affected by the Republican plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would likely widen the gap in rates of coverage between populations of color and whites

The longstanding gap in rates of health coverage between whites and populations of color narrowed substantially since implementation of the ACA (Figure 2). Programs like Medicaid expansion, the health insurance exchanges, and tax credits for purchasing coverage contributed significantly to the narrowing of that gap. If these programs were repealed, defunded, or otherwise rolled back—as they are under the recent Republican plan—individuals who benfited from these coverage expansions would likely lose their coverage, again widening the gap in health coverage rates between whites and populations of color.

– Robert Hest, Graduate Research Assistant, State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC); Masters of Public Policy Student, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

— Photo by WBUR

[1] All references to the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act refer to the House Bill known as the American Health Care Act as it existed when it was pulled from consideration on the House floor March 24, 2017 after failing to garner the necessary support to pass.

Offshoring: Who is Harmed?

The Trump administration has made opposition to trade and offshoring a hallmark of its economic and social policies. Its “America First” strategy, which President Trump introduced in his inaugural address, paints globalization in especially stark and violent terms: “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world… We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” The focus on the destruction of jobs has been central to Trump’s campaign and his early presidency, and appears to be a very targeted message: we are going to save the jobs of white, working class men.

Recent research shows that men are especially aggrieved by offshoring, and my own research shows that white men in particular attach a strong political salience to offshoring regardless of their own economic conditions, but is offshoring really just an issue for men?

When President Trump talks about other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs, he is referring to the phenomenon of offshoring. Offshoring, sometimes called ‘outsourcing’, refers to the economic phenomenon of jobs being moved overseas. Yet of course this does not literally refer to jobs actually being shipped abroad, as the rhetoric suggests, but instead a natural response to the pressures of global trade. Countries focus their economic energies on producing products they can make relatively cheaply, and import the rest. As a result, the US tends to import many products that use a lot of labor to produce, since labor is less expensive abroad. As we import those products instead of making them here, there is a decrease in jobs here and an increase in jobs abroad.

Popular understanding of offshoring tends to focus on its effects in manufacturing. Offshoring primarily hurts those whose work involves routine and repetitive tasks. [i]  While many occupations fit this description – support roles that can be conducted over the phone or internet rather than in person, especially — the conversation about offshoring most often focuses on jobs in manufacturing. These workers suffer in the form of job losses and lowered wages.

It is difficult to say exactly how many jobs in manufacturing have been lost to offshoring, largely because the same characteristics that make a job vulnerable to offshoring also make it easy to replace with robots.

Yet data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does show us that there are fewer manufacturing jobs in the US now than there were in 2007, although the big drop in manufacturing jobs happened in 2010, and the number has been steadily growing since (Figure 1 below).

Another thing the data make clear is that manufacturing is a male-dominated field (Figure 2, below). On average, almost three-quarters of manufacturing jobs in the US are held by men. Logically, this would suggest that any job losses that do occur primarily hurt men, and research suggests that white men in particular tend to be affected by offshoring. Researchers have found that white men in areas most exposed to the labor market disruptions caused by trade are especially likely to die by suicide and my own recent research with Andrew Kerner (U. of Michigan) and Brian Richter (U. of Texas) shows that white men feel especially and uniquely aggrieved by offshoring, even when we account for their own economic situation.

Yet what is interesting about the plots of the BLS data is that when manufacturing jobs decreased, the proportion of those jobs held by men actually slightly increased. While this could absolutely be statistical noise, it does suggest that, while more men were hurt by job losses in manufacturing, women may be the long-term casualties. As Figure 2 shows, this small increase in the proportion of manufacturing jobs held by men looks somewhat differently when we look at total jobs: while more men lost jobs when manufacturing employment dipped, they have also accounted for a larger share of the new job creation.

The increase in women working in manufacturing is almost imperceptible on this plot, when viewed on the same scale as men, while employment among men is steadily increasing.

While these plots do not control for other possible explanatory factors and cannot explain why this is happening, they do suggest that job losses in manufacturing – whether due to offshoring or to automation, another likely culprit for the loss of highly routinized jobs – may have disproportionately hurt women. As new jobs have been created in manufacturing, the field may be becoming more male-dominated.

It is also possible – maybe even probable – that the male-domination of manufacturing is why it is such a great talking point for Trump. While it is difficult to disentangle whether his strong support among white working-class men is a cause or an effect of his messaging, that support base is strong and Trump shows signs of continuing to speak to them and address their concerns. While he has made a great spectacle of visiting and “saving” jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana, or “stopping” automobile factories from investing in Mexico, there have been recent closures and job losses that have gone entirely unmentioned. Retail establishments such as Macy’s, Wet Seal, and Sears have all announced massive closures in recent months, with Macy’s alone shedding 10,000 jobs. Despite this accounting for more job losses than either Carrier or the automobile companies, there has been no mention of “saving” these jobs. And that may well be because the service sector is female-dominated, and the administration does not think women’s work is worth saving.

— Jane Lawrence Sumner is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota

— Photo by WolfVision



[i] Owen, Erica. Exposure to Offshoring and the Politics of Trade Liberalization: Debate and votes on Free Trade Agreements in the U.S. House of Representatives, 2001-2006. International Studies Quarterly. Forthcoming.

Owen, Erica & Johnston, Noel P. Occupation and the Political Economy of Trade: Job Routineness, Offshorability and Protectionist Sentiment. International Organization. Forthcoming.