Institutional Racism, Part II: Race, Skill, and Hiring in U.S. Cities

By Tilly, Chris | Nation's Cities Weekly, June 19, 2000 | Go to article overview

Institutional Racism, Part II: Race, Skill, and Hiring in U.S. Cities


Tilly, Chris, Nation's Cities Weekly


NLC's Workforce Development for Poverty Reduction Project, a three-year effort funded by the Ford, W.K Kellogg, Annie E. Casey, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations, recently addressed the topic, "Undoing Racism" during the second annual project convening in Denver, Colo., April 6-8, 2000. City officials and community leaders from five cities--Flint, Mich., Dayton, Ohio, Oklahoma City, Pasadena, Calif. and Modesto, Calif.--came together for two days of information sharing and strategizing on how they could more effectively connect low-income residents with living wage jobs in their communities.

One of the barriers to achieving this goal, team members say, appears to be ongoing racial discrimination in hiring practices and access to education and skills training that equip people for 21st century jobs.

The issue is complex, and sorting out the differences between racial discrimination and preference in the marketplace is difficult, but necessary work.

To "model" the type of dialogue that local officials might encourage in their communities, NLC sponsored a panel that included three nationally recognized scholars who shared highlights from their research on the impact of race on access to living wage employment. Panelists included: Professor John Betancur, University of Illinois at Chicago; Professor Chris TiUy, University of Massachusetts at Lowell; and Dr. Wilhelmina Leigh of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. In this issue, Nation's Cities Weekly continues to reprint excerpts from the panel presentation at the NLC project meeting in Denver A copy of the entire proceedings from the panel may be obtained by contacting Susan Rosenblum, project manager, National League of Cities, (202) 626-3030 or e-mail rosenblum@nlc.org.

To find out more about NLC's work on Undoing Racism, contact Dr. Lorna Gonsalves-Pinto, Director, Race and Ethnic Relations Program, National League of Cities, (202) 626-3026 or email: gonsalves-pinto@nlc.org.

This week, Chris Tilly, Professor of Regional Economic and Social Development, the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, shares findings from interviews and telephone surveys with employers in four cities:Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles. He notes that employers' concerns about crime and workforce quality may translate into employers' reduced willingness to hire workers of color from the inner city. Professor Tilly specializes in labor, income distribution,,and local economic development. His most recent work includes two books that will be published this Fall: Stories Employers Tell: Race, Skill, and Hiring in America (with Philip Moss) and Urban Inequality in America: Evidence from Four Cities.

I want to share some of the work that I have been doing with my friend, Phil Moss, that appears in a new book, to be published this fall by Russell Sage: Stories Employers Tell: Race, Skill and Hiring in America. It is based on a set of interviews in which employers told their own stories about how they hired and what they thought about when they did that. Phil and I are both in the Department of Regional and Social Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

The "U-Turn" on Racial Equality

The starting point of our research was what could be called a "U-turn" on racial equality. Although we focused on blacks, particularly, the difference between black and white, the discussion broadens that out to Latinos and Asians as well.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, the wage gap between black and white workers narrowed to some extent. Several things helped to narrow that gap. African Americans were moving out of the south. And they received more education and won civil rights legislation. But in the 1980s and the 1990s (and we will see what this decade brings) that wage gap actually grew wider again. This is true for beth men and women. And it is still true after you take educational differences into account--a particularly striking point. …

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