Laura Wolf-Powers is a Ph.D. candidate in urban planning and policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Policy, Rutgers University. She and Ann Markusan are co-authors of A Just Transition: Lessons From Defense Workers' Experience in the 1990's.
Given the robust economy of recent years and President Clinton's avowed commitment to defense conversion and worker retraining, you might assume that displaced defense workers did rather well in the 1990s. They didn't. A majority of the nearly one million workers displaced over the past decade now work at jobs that pay less than their former jobs.
What happened? The basic answer is distressingly simple: Despite the euphoria over the rapid rate of U.S. job growth, manufacturing employment continues to take a beating. While the number of nonfarm jobs in this country has grown by almost 19 percent over the past decade, more than one million manufacturing jobs, or 5 percent of all such positions, have vanished since 1989. Some 381,000 manufacturing jobs have evaporated in the past year alone.
Though the Asian financial crisis, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the widening U.S. trade deficit get most of the blame for the...