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Employment Restructuring and the Labor Market Status of Young Black Men in the 1980s

David Howell ()

Economics Working Paper Archive from Levy Economics Institute

Abstract: The decline in the employment status of young black men relative to their white peers in the post-1970 U.S. Labor market is the impetus for this research. This paper examines the effects of recent employment restructuring on young workers by race and sex. In the case of the least educated group of young black men (aged 25-34), the employment-to-population ratio declined by almost 35 percent (equivalent to 28 percentage points) from 1970 tol985. Moreover, the 1980s were a stark reversal to the decades-long trend of a narrowing of the black/white earnings gap. Recent literature on demand-side trends for black employment has employed aggregate Census industry and occupation classifications: A more accurate depiction of change among various demographic groups is represented in an increasingly consistent segregation of job classifications. The findings indicate that job segments with the highest concentration of young black men had the lowest employment and earnings growth, but the highest growth in educational requirements, between 1979 and 1989. Furthermore, while the distributions of moderately educated young black and white women among segments converged during this time, the black and white male distributions diverged sharply. Hence, the results imply a strong link between changes in rates of labor market discouragement and changes in job opportunities, job quality, and educational requirements. A lingering question remains for future research: Given that the distribution of young, moderately educated black and white women has narrowed substantially, why have young black men failed to redistribute themselves toward higher-quality, growing job segments as effectively as their white counterparts?

Date: 1991-12
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