Race and Ethnicity in the Labor Market; Changes, Restructuring, and Resistance 2000–2014

  • Roberta Spalter-Roth
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


The labor market is described as a set of queuing practices in which employers rank workers in terms of their views of who is likely to be productive, who they can pay the least, who will not complain about working conditions, and who is likely to fit in. Workers rank jobs in terms of wages, benefits, autonomy, and workplace conditions, as well as who they know. These queues are neither gender neutral nor color blind, despite laws that prohibit deliberate discrimination. The data in this chapter reveal a stratified queue with substantial differences in unemployment rates, occupational participation, and earnings in 2000 among racial, ethnic, and gender groups. By 2014, more workers fell back in the queue as employers used race-, ethnicity-, and gender-based strategies to restructure the workforce to increase profits and control. Not surprisingly, in a capitalist economy, worker strategies had substantially less impact, especially because of lack of unity among race, ethnic and immigrant groups. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how we can expect the queue to change in the next decade.


Labor market Work force Wages Job queue 



This first version of this chapter is based upon the working papers of 45 social scientists produced for a conference held by the American Sociological Association on “Race, Racism, and Race Relations: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?” supported by generous grants from the Ford Foundation and the W.G. Kellogg Foundation. The authors have rewritten this chapter, using a broader time period, and the views presented in this chapter are solely the authors.


  1. Appelbaum, E., Bernhardt, A., & Murnane, R. (2006). Low-wage America: How employers are reshaping opportunity in the workplace. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  2. Arce, C. H., Murguia, E., & Frisbe, W. P. (1987). Phenotype and life chances among chicanos. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Studies, 9(1), 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bankston, C. L. (2014). Immigrant networks and social change. Malden, MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bean, F. D., & Stevens, G. (2003). America’s newcomers and the dynamics of diversity. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  5. Becker, G. S. (1971). A theory of discrimination (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bernstein, J. (1995). Where’s the payoff?: The gap between black academic progress and economic gains. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  7. Blau, P. M., & Duncan, O. D. (1967). The American occupational structure. New York: The Free.Google Scholar
  8. Bobo, L. D., & Suh, S. A. (2000). Surveying racial discrimination: Analyses from a multiethnic labor market. In L. D. Bobo, M. L. Oliver, J. H. Johnson Jr., & A. Valenzuela Jr. (Eds.), Prismatic metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles (pp. 523–560). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  9. Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  10. Borjas, G. (1998). Do blacks gain or lose from immigration? In D. S. Hamermesh & F. D. Bean (Eds.), Help or hindrance?: The economic implications of immigration for African Americans (pp. 51–74). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  11. Borjas, G. (2014). Immigration economics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bound, J., & Holzer, H. (1993). Industrial shifts, skills levels, and the labor market for white and black males. Review of Economics and Statistics, 125(3), 387–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boushey, H., & Cherry, R. (2000). Exclusionary practices and glass-ceiling effects across regions: What does the current expansion tell us?”. In R. Cherry & W. M. Rodgers III (Eds.), Prosperity for all? The economic boom and African Americans (pp. 160–187). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  14. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2002). The inheritance of inequality. Journal of Economic Perspectives., 16, 3–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burke, J., Epstein, G., & Choi, M. (2004). Rising foreign outsourcing and employment losses in U.S. manufacturing, 1987–2002. Amherst: Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  16. Burtless, G. (1990). Earnings inequality over the business and demographic cycles. In G. Burtless (Ed.), A future of lousy jobs?: The changing structure of U.S. wages. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  17. Card, D. (2005). Is the new immigration really so bad? Unpublished paper. Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  18. Carnevale, A. P., & Strohl, J. (2013). Separate & unequal: How higher education reinforces the intergenerational reproduction of white racial privilege. Washington, DC: Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown Public Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  19. Castilla, E. J. (2008). Gender, race, and meritocracy in organizational careers. American Journal of Sociology, 113(6), 1479–1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cobble, D. (1993). Introduction: Remaking unions for the new majority. In D. S. Cobble (Ed.), Women and unions: Forging a partnership (pp. 3–23). Ithaca, NY: ILR Press.Google Scholar
  21. Conrad, C. (2000). In good times and bad: Discrimination and unemployment. In R. Cherry & W. M. Rodgers III (Eds.), Prosperity for all? The economic boom and African Americans (pp. 208–213). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  22. Conrad, C. (2001). Racial trends in labor market access and wages: Women. In N. J. Smelser, W. J. Wilson, & F. Mitchell (Eds.), American becoming: Racial trends and their consequences (pp. 124–151). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  23. Darity, W. J., Dietrich, J., & Guilkey, D. K. (1997). Racial and ethnic inequality in the United States: A secular perspective. American Economic Review, 87(2), 301–305.Google Scholar
  24. Darity, W. Jr., Guilkey, D., & Winfrey, W. (1996). Explaining differences in economic performance among racial and ethnic groups in the USA: the data examined. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 55(4), 411–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Darity, W., & Mason, P. L. (1998). Evidence on discrimination in employment: Codes of color, codes of gender. Unpublished working paper.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. DiTomaso, N. (2013). The American non-dilemma: Racial inequality without racisms. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  27. Ebenstein, A., Harrison, A., McMillan, M., & Phillips, S. (2014). Estimating the impact of trade and offshoring on American workers using the current population survey. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 96(4), 581–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Farley, R., Danzinger, S., & Holzer, H. (2000). Detroit divided. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  29. Feagin, J. R., & Sikes, M. P. (1994). Living with racism: The black middle-class experience. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  30. Fernandez, R. M., & Castilla, E. (2001). How much is that network worth? Social capital in employee referral networks. In N. Lin, K. Cook, & R. Burt (Eds.), Social capital: Theory and research (pp. 85–104). Chicago: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  31. Fernandez, R. M., Castilla, E., & Moore, P. (1998). Social capital at work: networks and hiring at a phone center. In Conference Paper, Social networks and social capital: an international perspective. Duke University, October 30–November 1.Google Scholar
  32. Fine, J. (2006). Worker centers: Organizing communities at the edge of the dream. Cornell University Press ILR Imprint.
  33. Grodsky, E., & Pager, Devah. (2001). The structure of disadvantage: Individual and occupation determinants of the black-white wage gap. The American Sociological Review., 33(August), 542–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hamilton, D., Austin, A., & Darity, W. D. Jr. (2011). Whiter jobs, higher wages: Occupational segregation and the lower wages of white men. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper.Google Scholar
  35. Hoffa, J. P. (2016). DOL C\Rule change sheds light on anti-union tactics. Huff Post Business. March 24, 2016.Google Scholar
  36. Holzer, H. (1996). Why do small firms hire fewer blacks than large ones? Working paper. Institute for Research on Poverty.Google Scholar
  37. Holzer, H. (2001). Racial differences in labor market outcomes among men. In N. J. Smelser, W. J. Wilson, & F. Mitchell (Eds.), American becoming: Racial trends and their consequences (pp. 98–123). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  38. Holzer, H., & Ihlanfeldt, K. (1996). Customer discrimination and employment outcomes of minorities. Working paper. Institute for Research on Poverty.Google Scholar
  39. Howell, D. R., & Mueller, E. J. (1997). The effects of immigrants on African-Americans earnings: A jobs-level analysis of the New York City Labor Market, 1979–89. Working paper no. 210. New York: The Jerome Levy Economics Institute.Google Scholar
  40. Huffman, M. I., & Cohen, P. N. (2004). Racial wage inequality: Job segregation and devaluation across U.S. labor markets. American Journal of Sociology, 109(4), 902–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hum, T. (2000). A protected niche? Immigrant ethnic economics and labor market segmentation. In L. D. Bobo, M. L. Oliver, J. H. Johnson Jr., & A. Valenzuela Jr. (Eds.), Prismatic metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles (pp. 279–314). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  42. Jaynes, G. D., & Williams, R. M., Jr. (1989). A common destiny: Blacks and American society. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  43. Jencks, C., & Phillips, M. (1998). The black-white test score gap. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  44. Johnson, J. H., Jr., Farrell, W. C., Jr., & Stoloff, J. A. (2000). African American males in decline: A Los Angeles case study. In L. D. Bobo, M. L. Oliver, J. H. Johnson Jr., & A. Valenzuela Jr. (Eds.), Prismatic metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles (pp. 315–337). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  45. Johnson, J. H., Jr., & Oliver, M. L. (1992). Structural changes in the U.S. economy and black male joblessness: A reassessment. In G. E. Peterson & W. Vroman (Eds.), Urban labor markets and job opportunity (pp. 113–147). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar
  46. Kalleberg, A. L. (2011). Good jobs, bad jobs: The rise of polarized and precarious employment systems in the United States, 1970s–2000s. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, American Sociological Association Rose Series in Sociology.Google Scholar
  47. Kalleberg, A. L., Reskin, B. F., & Hudson, K. (2000). Bad jobs in America: Standard and nonstandard employment relations and job quality in the United States. American Sociological Review, 65(2), 256–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Keith, V. M., & Herring, C. (1991). Skin tone and stratification in the black community. American Journal of Sociology, 97, 760–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. King, M. C. (1992). Occupational segregation by race and sex, 1940–1988. Monthly Labor Review, April, 1992.Google Scholar
  50. Kirschenman, J., Moss, P., & Tilly, C. (1995). Employer screening methods and racial exclusion: Evidence from new in-depth interviews with employers. Russell Sage Foundation.
  51. Kirschenman, J., & Neckerman, K. M. (1991). ‘We’d love to hire them but …’ The meaning of race for employers. In C. Jencks & P. Peterson (Eds.), The urban underclass (pp. 203–234). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  52. Kletzer, L. (1998). Job displacement. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 12, 115–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kletzer, L. (2005). Globalization and job loss from manufacturing to services. Economic Perspectives, 29, 38–46.Google Scholar
  54. Leonard, J. S. (1990). The impact of affirmative action regulation and equal employment law on black employment. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 4, 47–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lichter, M. I., & Oliver, M. (2000). Racial differences in labor force participation and long-term joblessness among less-educated men. In L. D. Bobo, M. L. Oliver, J. H. Johnson Jr., & A. Valenzuela Jr. (Eds.), Prismatic metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles (pp. 220–248). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  56. Lim, N. (2001). On the back of blacks: Immigrants and the fortunes of African Americans. In R. Waldinger (Ed.), Strangers at the gates: New immigrants in urban America (pp. 186–227). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  57. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Maume, D. J. (1999). Glass ceilings and glass escalators: Occupational segregation and race and sex differences in managerial promotions. Work and Occupations, 26(4), 483–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McCartin, J. A. (2011) The strike that busted unions. The New York Times, August 2, 2011.Google Scholar
  60. Milkman, R. (2004). Immigrant workers and the future of the I.S. labor movement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  61. Milkman, R. (2014). New labor in New York: Precarious workers and the labor movement. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Moss, P., & Tilly, C. (1995). Raised hurdles for black men: Evidence from interviews with employers. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Retrieved October 19, 2005.
  63. Moss, P., & Tilly, C. (1996a). Informal hiring practices, racial exclusion, and public policy. Prepared for presentation at the meetings of the Association of Public Policy and Management, Pittsburgh, PA, October 31–November 2, 1996.Google Scholar
  64. Moss, Philip, & Tilly, Chris. (1996b). ‘Soft’ skills and race. Work and Occupations, 23, 252–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Moss, P., & Tilly, C. (1997). Why opportunity isn’t knocking: Racial inequality and the demand for labor. Unpublished manuscript. Department of Regional Economic and Social Development, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA.Google Scholar
  66. Murname, R. J., Willet, J. B., & Levy, F. (1995). The growing importance of cognitive skills in wage determination. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 77(2), 251–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Neckerman, K. M., & Kirschenman, J. (1991). Hiring strategies, racial bias, and inner-city workers. Social Problems, 38(4), 433–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Ng, T. W. H., Eby, L. T., Sorenson, K., & Feldman, D. C. (2005). Predictors of occupational success. Personnel Psychology, 58(2), 367–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. North, D. (2011). Employer proclaims he profits from H-1B workers. Washington, DC: Center for Immigrant Studies.Google Scholar
  70. North, D. (2013). Motivation for hiring alien workers?. Washington, DC: Center for Immigration Studies.Google Scholar
  71. Norwood, J., Carson, C., Deese, M., Johnson, N. J., Reeder, F. S., & Rolph, J. E. (2006). Off shoring. how big is it. A Report of the Panel of the National Academy of Public Administration for the U.S. Congress and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Washington, DC: The National Academy of Public Administration.Google Scholar
  72. O’Regan, K. M., & Quigley, J. M. (1993). Family networks and youth access to jobs. Journal of Urban Economics., 34, 230–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Oliver, M. L., & Shapiro, T. M. (1995). Black wealth/white wealth: A new perspective on racial inequality. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  74. Padavic, I., & Reskin, B. (2002). Women and men at work (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
  75. Parvez, Z. F. (2002). Women, poverty, and welfare reform (Social activism fact sheets) Akron, OH: Sociologists for women in society. Retrieved October 19, 2005.
  76. Paul, D. L., & Wooster, R. B. (2010). An empirical analysis of motives for offshore outsourcing by U.S. firms. The International Trade Journal, 24(3), 298–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Peterson, T., Saporta, I., & Scidel, M.-D. L. (2000). Offering a job: Meritocracy and social networks. The American Journal of Sociology, 106(3), 763–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Reimers, C. (1998). Unskilled immigration and changes in the wage distribution of black, Mexican American, and non-Hispanic white male dropouts. In D. S. Hamermesh & F. D. Bean (Eds.), Help or hindrance? The economic implications of immigration for African Americans (pp. 107–148). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  79. Reskin, B. F. (1998). The realities of affirmative action in employment. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.Google Scholar
  80. Reskin, B. F., & Padavic, I. A. (1988). Supervisors as gatekeepers: Male supervisors’ response to women’s integration in plant jobs. Social Problems, 35, 401–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Reskin, B. F., & Roos, P. (1990). Job queues, gender queues. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Rochín, R. I., Saenz, R., Hampton, S., & Calo, B. (1998). Colonias and Chicano/a entrepreneurs in rural California. JSRI research report #16. The Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.Google Scholar
  83. Rodgers, W., & Spriggs, W. E. (1996). What does the AFQT really measure: Race, wages, schooling and the AFQT score. The Review of Black Political Economy (Spring), 13–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Rooks, D. (2004). Sticking it out or packing it in? Organizer retention in the new labor movement. In R. Milkman & K.Voss (Eds.), Rebuilding labor: Organizing and organizers in the new union movement (pp. 194–224).Google Scholar
  85. Roscigno, V. J., Hodson, R., & Lopez, S. H. (2008). Power, status, and abuse at work. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(1), 3–27.Google Scholar
  86. Rothman, D. (2013). How technology is destroying jobs? MIT Technology Report. June 12, 2013.
  87. Savitz-Romer, M., Jager-Hyman, J., & Coles, A. (2009). Removing roadblocks to rigor: Linking academic and social supports to ensure college readiness and success. Washington, DC: Pathways to College Network, Institute for Higher Education Policy.Google Scholar
  88. Seltzer, S., & Smith, R. C. (1991). Color differences in the Afro-American community and the differences they make. Journal of Black Studies, 21(3), 279–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Smith, R., & Cho, E. H. (2013). Workers’ rights on ice: How immigration reform can stop retaliation and save labor rights. New York: National Employment Law Project.Google Scholar
  90. Spalter-Roth, R. (2007). Race and ethnicity in the labor force: employer practices and worker strategies. In H. Vera & J. R. Feagin (Eds.), Handbook of the sociology of racial and ethnic relations (pp. 263–283). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Spalter-Roth, R., & Deitch, C. (1998). ‘I don’t feel right-sized—I Feel out-of-work sized: The unequal effects of downsizing on women in the workforce. Paper presented at the session on Employment Equality and Restructuring, co-sponsored by the Sex and Gender Section, for the 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 21–25, 1998.Google Scholar
  92. Spalter-Roth, R., & Hartmann, H. I. (1994). What do unions do for women? In S. Friedman, R. W. Hurd, R. A. Oswald, & R. Seeber (Eds.), Restoring the promise of american labor law. New York: ILR Press.Google Scholar
  93. Spalter-Roth, R., & Lowenthal, T. A. (2005). Race, ethnicity, and the American labor market: What’s at work. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association Research Brief. Retrieved October 19, 2005.
  94. Spalter-Roth, R., Mayorova, O., Shin, J., & White, P. (2013). The impact of cross-race mentoring for “ideal” PhD careers in sociology. Sociological Spectrum, 33(6), 484–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Spriggs, W. E., & Williams, R. M. (2000). What do we need to explain about African American unemployment?”. In R. Cherry & W. M. Rodgers III (Eds.), Prosperity for all? The economic boom and African Americans (pp. 188–207). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  96. Stainback, K., & Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (2012). Documenting desegregation: Racial and gender segregation in private sector employment since the civil rights act. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  97. Telles, E. E., & Murguia, E. (1990). Phenotypic discrimination and income differences among Mexican Americans. Social Science Quarterly, 71(4), 682–694.Google Scholar
  98. The Economist. (2017). Artificial intelligence: The impact on jobs. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  99. Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (1993). Gender and racial inequality at work: The sources and consequences of job segregation. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press.Google Scholar
  100. Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (2016). Southern sociological presidential address. Social Currents, 1(1), 51–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Uzialko, A. C. (2017). Business news daily. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  102. Waldinger, R. (1996). Still the promised city?: African-Americans and new immigrants in postindustrial New York. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  103. Waldinger, R., & Litcher, M. I. (2003). How the other half works: Immigration and the social organization of labor. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  104. Weil, D. (2014). The fissured workplace: Why has work become so bad?. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.Google Scholar
  106. Wilson, W. J. (2015). Reflections on the issue of race and class in 21st century America. Issues in Race & Society, 3(2), 11–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. Xie, Y., & Gough, M. (2011). Enclaves and the earning of immigrants. Demography, 48(4), 1293–1315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Social Science Research, George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

Personalised recommendations