DETROIT — Since millions of African-Americans began leaving Southern farms for Northern factories nearly a century ago in what is still known as the Great Migration, the destinies of many of them have been entwined with the auto industry’s.
The car companies were hardly multiracial utopias, but they, especially Ford, employed blacks when many industries would not. Through the decades, the automakers and their higher wage scales provided a route to the middle class for many blacks, especially those with limited education, and their children.
Now, with Detroit reeling, many blacks find their economic well-being threatened.
By last month, nearly 20,000 African-American auto workers had lost jobs, a 13.9 percent decline in employment, since the recession began last December, according to government jobs data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington research firm. That compares with a 4.4 percent decline for all workers in manufacturing.