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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Why Blue-Collar Blacks Help Less

  • Author(s): Smith, Sandra Susan;
  • Young, Kara Alexis
  • et al.

Why are blue-collar blacks less likely to help jobseekers than jobholders from other ethnoracial groups or even than more affluent blacks? Drawing from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 97 black and Latino workers at one large, public sector employer, we find that blue-collar black workers both helped less proactively and rejected more requests for assistance than did blue-collar Latino and white-collar black workers. We attribute blue-collar blacks’ more passive engagement to their stronger conviction, born from personal experience, that providing help was too risky and, more often than not, a waste of time. These experiences contributed to their belief that job-finding hardships were less the result of opportunity deficits than deficits in work ethic, a position they then deployed to justify their reluctance to help in the future. We end with a discussion about how prior helping experiences shape beliefs about inequality and inform jobholders’ willingness to help in the future, often to the detriment of disadvantaged black jobseekers.

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