Thank God, Wade thought to himself. He would be able to get out his plow and make some quick cash.
Money never used to be a problem for Wade, 47, who owned a house with a pool back when he worked at Delphi Automotive, a parts manufacturer that for years was one of the biggest employers in this wooded stretch of northeastern Ohio. But 10 years after taking a buyout as part of Delphi’s ongoing shift of production out of the United States and into Mexico and China, the house and the pool were gone.
Berta Alicia Lopez, 54, is the new face of Delphi. On a recent chilly morning, she woke before sunrise on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico, and caught an unheated bus that dropped her an hour away at the Delphi plant.
Lopez earns $1 an hour assembling cables and electronics that will eventually be installed into vehicles — the same work that Wade once did for $30 an hour. A farmer’s daughter who grew up in an impoverished stretch of rural Mexico, Lopez is proud to own a used Toyota sedan and a concrete block house.
She frequently thanks God for the work, even if it is in a town troubled by drug violence, even if she doesn’t see many possibilities for earning more or advancing.
The two workers live 1,800 miles and a border apart and have never met. But their stories embody the massive economic shift that has accompanied the rise of free trade.
In the United States, that shift has contributed to the loss of jobs that once helped workers buy homes, pay for health insurance and send children to college. In Mexico, it brought jobs — though they didn’t create the kind of broad, middle-class prosperity they once had in America.
But the real legacy of NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, is more complicated.
Nobody disputes that the loss of manufacturing has left a bruising mark in parts of the U.S., especially in places like the Rust Belt, where lower paying service industry jobs are increasingly replacing middle class factory positions. But many economists say changes in technology, along with competition with China, are more to blame than NAFTA.
The period of steepest decline in manufacturing jobs, which fell from 17 million to 11 million between 2000 and 2010, is substantially attributable to the free import of goods manufactured more cheaply in China
South of the border, free trade has indeed helped modernize Mexico by creating millions of jobs since the passage of NAFTA, boosting investment flow and helping to diversify the country’s manufacturing sector. Mexican workers now help build everything from Whirlpool washing machines to Bombardier jets.
But wages have remained low, so that Mexico remains attractive to manufacturers who might otherwise be tempted to locate in China or elsewhere in Asia. Since NAFTA went into effect, there has been no change in the number of Mexicans living below the poverty line — more than half.
A tale of two cities: What happened when factory jobs moved from Warren, Ohio, to Juarez, Mexico - LA Times (external - login to view)