Sociology Faculty Publications and Presentations

Racial/Ethnic Hierarchy and Urban Labor Market Inequality: Four Poignant Historical Cases

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The sociological literature, although rich on the topic of racial/ethnic hierarchy, often overlooks its spatially varying nature relative to group tensions and inequality. In this article, we address this gap by drawing on and analyzing four historically important U.S. urban cases (i.e., Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City) that reflect both compositional diversity and significant variation in racial/ethnic group sizes. Our analyses, which draw on U.S. Census microdata and content-coded newspaper reports (1910–1930), demonstrate considerable consistency in racial/ethnic labor market hierarchies, yet divergences in levels of labor market inequality. Specifically, our aggregate analyses and cross-city comparisons of sectoral representations and occupational returns reveal the importance of place-specific processes—processes consistent with what spatially sensitive queuing perspectives suggest about the bolstering of minority prospects in contexts where subordinated groups come to numerically dominate. As suggested by competition/threat perspectives, however, such gains from queuing are undermined at least to some extent by city-specific racial/ethnic antagonisms, industry-level segregation, and group closure. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for various streams of research on group inequality, labor market hierarchies, and spatial understandings of how they unfold across urban spaces.


© 2019 American Sociological Association

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City & Community