Strangers at the Gates: New Immigrants in Urban America

By Roger Waldinger | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
UP FROM POVERTY?
“Race, ” Immigration, and the Fate of
Low-Skilled Workers

Roger Waldinger

Immigration has transformed America's largest urban places in ways that even the casual observer of cities cannot help but notice. Yet we have made little progress in pursuing the intellectual implications of the new metropolitan demography, mainly because our understanding of today's urban reality remains deeply embedded in older frameworks, never adequate to begin with and now badly outdated.

The “urban problem” of the past half century was framed by a preoccupation with race and the difficulties African Americans encountered in their attempts to get ahead. Although the literature offered a plethora of explanations for these problems, the most influential emphasized the mismatch between the requirements of employers and the skills of black residents. African Americans entered the American metropolis as the least skilled of all workers and, owing to the problems of urban schools, stayed at the end of the hiring queue. Consequently, they found themselves vulnerable to the steady accretion in skill requirements that has systematically put less-schooled workers at risk, no matter where they live. For African Americans, however, place mattered because they were disproportionately concentrated in and around cities. The factory sector crumbled faster and more profoundly in cities than anywhere else; moreover, the new sources of urban economic growth provided little place for the less skilled. The same general trends hit the suburbs, but not nearly so hard; African

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