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Race, Ethnicity and Employment, 1970-1985


Published government statistics and social science research have documented employment trends for the 1960-1980 period. During the 1960s, the percentage of Black, White, and other men who worked full-year (48 or more weeks per year) increased, and the gap between Blacks and Whites, and Whites and others narrowed (Smith and Welch 1986; Sandefur and Pahari 1987). This improvement did not continue in the 1970s, however, and the percentage of Black, White and other men who worked full-year declined while the percentage who worked none at all increased. Further, the gap in the employment of Whites and Blacks increased.

Most observers attribute the gains of the 1960s to economic growth and to improvements in the average level of education of minority group members (Smith and Welch 1986). The 1970s, on the other hand, was a period of inflation, recessions, and little growth in jobs. In addition, the ranks of those seeking employment increased with the coming of age of the baby boom generation and the increase in job-seeking among women. This made finding employment much more difficult than it had been during the 1960s. The evidence also suggests that Blacks, because of their over-representation in marginal jobs, were hurt more by the problems of the 1970s than were Whites (Wilson 1987).

Most of the research on these trends in employment has concentrated on Blacks and Whites, because these are the two largest racial groups in American society and because data on these groups is more readily available. The limited amount of research on other groups such as Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans indicates that their experiences diverge from those of both Blacks and Whites (see, for example, Hirschman 1988; Sandefur and Pahari 1987). The purpose of this paper is to examine racial differences in trends in employment more carefully. We address two major questions: (1) Have the racial/ethnic differences in employment increased or declined since 1970? and, (2) Have differences in employment across educational groups increased or declined since 1970?

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