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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Has the Mainstream Been Remade? Mexican-Origin Workers in the New Economy


Alba and Nee's influential Remaking the Mainstream contends that a more open, less discriminatory labor market enhances opportunities for assimilation, even for the least skilled of American immigrants groups. The is paper seeks to assess that contention by examining the determinants and consequences of inter-ethnic differences in standard v. non-standard jobs, a category including wage and salaried work on a temporary or part-time basis or on the payroll of an intermediary, as well as self-employment. Using the February 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 series of Current Population Survey data, we compare first, second, and third-generation-plus Mexican Americans to native whites and African-Americans of the third generation or beyond. We find that non-standard work is actually more common among third generation whites than among minorities. Examination of the types of non-standard jobs in which the various groups are engaged yields a different pattern: whites engaged in non-standard work are disproportionately likely to be self-employed, an activity associated with higher levels of education and experience. By contrast, other groups are likely to be wage and salaried workers employed in non-standard jobs of a distinctly undesirable sort, positions into which less-skilled less experienced workers get sorted. While non-standard jobs compare unfavorably with standard jobs across all types of compensation examined, the net effect of greater minority reliance on non-standard work on inter-ethnic differences is slight. The terms of compensation in non-standard wage and salary jobs are poor across all groups, and ethnic differences are actually greatest among wage and salaried workers employed in standard jobs. Thus, we conclude that the mainstream has indeed been remade, but not in ways consistent with the hypothesis advanced by the contemporary proponents of assimilation.

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