Some states posted 25-year high jobless rates this year. But other states have been singing that same sad song for more than a decade. When the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed opening up U.S. markets to our neighbors, many factories and jobs were sent outside the country to places where people worked for cheaper. Since then, states all across the Midwest, and others like South Carolina, have seen thousands of workers lose their factory jobs that offered good wages and health benefits. Several years later, many of these workers have still not recovered.
One reader who lost her job at Ford in the 1990s shares her story:
“The economic recession the nation is currently in hit the state of Michigan and the auto industry in the late 1980s. When Clinton signed NAFTA in his first term, Michigan lost thousands of engineering jobs. These were the very jobs which Clinton and his cronies said wouldn't disappear. The promise of NAFTA was that only low tech jobs would leave the country. That is NOT what happened.
I lost my job at Ford in 1996 and shortly thereafter lost my home. I ended up on the street living in my car for a year. Sleeping in a cold car at night is scary. Finding a safe place to park is far scarier. Vagrancy is a crime even though the people who become vagrants in this economy frequently have fought to stay at their respective jobs and homes.
The common belief is that if one ends up on the street, it's due to drugs, alcohol abuse, bad planning or even some form of prostitution. While that is true for some people, in this economic tsunami, isn't the story for many who now find themselves homeless.
Detroit now has a 18% unemployment rate — it had almost been that high in the mid 1990s. Michigan has more than 650,000 people out of work and registered with Michigan Works and Unemployment. That figure ignores the people who fell off the rolls but are still unable to find a permanent job or even a temporary work. How many jobs are advertised on Michigan works? Most of the time, it’s only about 40-45k and many are postings from agencies all trying to pimp the same 4-5 jobs. It doesn't even out.
I managed to find another job in 1998 and I bought another home. I lost my job again in 2001. I found another only to lose that one 5 months later. I managed to borrow money to pay the mortgage for a year after my savings ran out.
For my job search, I consulted with “resume specialists” and went door-to-door in tech centers. I still couldn’t get hired. Even if I had by this time I was quite ill — nothing contagious, but I suffered a lot of bone pain.
From 2005 to now, I have bounced from one home to another, lived in my car, lived in a tent — even in winter. I’m now 61 years old and have grown even more ill. While I finally have disability, I have those years of debt to clear up. I have tried to do everything I could to earn a living and survive.
Despite now having the money to make a down payment on a small home and cover the small monthly mortgage payments, who I am, what all I’ve done, and my income no longer matters because my credit history was destroyed during my difficult times. Banks won’t consider me for a home loan.
It's a huge morass and I don't know how I’m going to survive. Life goes on whether I do or not.”
Former President Clinton has been championed for presiding over the largest economic expansion in American history, but has enough criticism been levied against him for NAFTA’s detrimental effect on the manufacturing industry?
Despite NAFTA offering some economic benefits to each participating country, little has been done to aid those workers who have essentially been replaced and left to fend for themselves. Though President Obama criticized NAFTA during the campaign and spoke of altering terms of the trade agreement, we've seen little movement on the agreement.
Has NAFTA hurt you or someone you know?
Share your story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.