Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 4 No. 4 (Fall 1990)


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The Labor Market Status of Black Americans: 1939-1985

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Jaynes, Gerald D. 1990. "The Labor Market Status of Black Americans: 1939-1985." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 4(4): 9-24.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.4.4.9


Among the empirical changes in the labor maket status of black Americans since 1939, three stand out: 1) three decades of rapid progress followed by two decades of relative stagnation in many aggregate measures of relative black earnings and incomes; 2) declining employment of black males; and 3) heightened inequality within the black population. Why has relative black employment fallen when blacks' wages and their access to occupations and to institutions of higher education have improved so much? To what extent may these changes be attributed to changes in discrimination and its consequences; changes and differences in skills; and changes in the relative wages of workers of different skills. Many of these issues remain important open questions. But we can conclude that changes in the economy during the past two decades have had particularly adverse effects on the demand for low-skilled workers. In particular, lower-skilled black males, who are disproportionately among those with the least educational achievements and attainments, appear to be in very low demand and may have responded to this low demand by withdrawing from the regular labor market.

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Jaynes, Gerald D. (Yale U)


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