Stories Employers Tell

Stories Employers Tell: Race, Skill, and Hiring in America

Philip Moss
Chris Tilly
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 332
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610444101
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Stories Employers Tell
    Book Description:

    Is the United States justified in seeing itself as a meritocracy, where stark inequalities in pay and employment reflect differences in skills, education,and effort? Or does racial discrimination still permeate the labor market, resulting in the systematic under hiring and underpaying of racial minorities, regardless of merit? Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s African Americans have lost ground to whites in the labor market, but this widening racial inequality is most often attributed to economic restructuring, not the racial attitudes of employers. It is argued that the educational gap between blacks and whites, though narrowing, carries greater penalties now that we are living in an era of global trade and technological change that favors highly educated workers and displaces the low-skilled.

    Stories Employers Telldemonstrates that this conventional wisdom is incomplete. Racial discrimination is still a fundamental part of the explanation of labor market disadvantage. Drawing upon a wide-ranging survey of employers in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles, Moss and Tilly investigate the types of jobs employers offer, the skills required, and the recruitment, screening and hiring procedures used to fill them. The authors then follow up in greater depth on selected employers to explore the attitudes, motivations, and rationale underlying their hiring decisions, as well as decisions about where to locate a business.

    Moss and Tilly show how an employer's perception of the merit or suitability of a candidate is often colored by racial stereotypes and culture-bound expectations. The rising demand for soft skills, such as communication skills and people skills, opens the door to discrimination that is rarely overt, or even conscious, but is nonetheless damaging to the prospects of minority candidates and particularly difficult to police. Some employers expressed a concern to race-match employees with the customers they are likely to be dealing with. As more jobs require direct interaction with the public, race has become increasingly important in determining labor market fortunes. Frequently, employers also take into account the racial make-up of neighborhoods when deciding where to locate their businesses.

    Ultimately, it is the hiring decisions of employers that determine whether today's labor market reflects merit or prejudice. This book, the result of years of careful research, offers us a rare opportunity to view the issue of discrimination through the employers' eyes.

    A Volume in the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-410-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Philip Moss and Chris Tilly
  5. 1 RACIAL INEQUALITY IN THE LABOR MARKET: MARKET FORCES OR DISCRIMINATION?
    (pp. 1-16)

    A debate rages in the United States about the sources and significance of continuing racial inequality: Are the ongoing disadvantages faced by African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color principally the result of impersonal market forces or of continuing, pervasive discrimination? Media pundits, political leaders, and scholars have weighed in with varied views, and the terms of the debate play out somewhat differently depending on whether the subject is housing segregation, school quality, or jobs. But the central question of market forces versus racism is a common theme.

    In the case of the labor market, the subject of this...

  6. 2 THE SCOPE OF THE STUDY: DATA, METHODS, AND THE FOUR CITIES
    (pp. 17-42)

    Our investigation of the labor market difficulties experienced by urban minorities relies on information supplied by employers located throughout the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles. In this chapter we describe in more detail the three Employer Surveys from which we draw our data. Following this, to set the context for the results discussed in coming chapters, we provide a snapshot of the recent history of industrial and demographic change in each of the four cities.

    There is more than one way to interview employers. As we noted in the previous chapter, we analyze two types of...

  7. 3 THE SKILLS EMPLOYERS SEEK
    (pp. 43-84)

    This Atlanta hotel manager is not alone in his opinion. Common wisdom holds that an important source of the labor market difficulties of young African Americans and Latinos is that they do not have the skills for today’s jobs. The jobs that have been created over the last twenty years or so, it is argued, require “new” skills, driven in large part by computers and computer-related technology. Manufacturing and other entry-level jobs that provided some reasonable income and security with relatively less demand for skills and credentials have been shrinking away, the story continues. The widely observed escalation of earnings...

  8. 4 EMPLOYER PERCEPTIONS OF RACE AND SKILL
    (pp. 85-155)

    In the simplest models of human capital theory, a worker’s probability of being employed and his or her wage depend directly on his or her potential productivity. This potential productivity, in turn, is a function of accumulated skill. Racial groups differ in average educational attainment and other skills, so this theory predicts employment and wage differentials as a consequence. But the employer quotations leading off this chapter suggest that it is critically important to examine the employerperceptionsthat underlie assessments of employee skills. To what extent are assessments of various racial or ethnic groups as “more focused,” “friendlier,” “faster,”...

  9. 5 EMPLOYERS VIEW THE INNER CITY
    (pp. 156-208)
    Ivy Kennelly and Joleen Kirschenman

    Metropolitan areas are big. Transportation options are limited, especially for those with few financial resources. So in determining who has access to jobs, it matters greatlywherewithin a metropolitan area employers locate (whether as a startup, a new branch, or a relocation). It also mattersfrom whereemployers hire. These business decisions depend on the spatial distribution of land and other costs, customers, and relevant workers.

    Location and hiring decisions, however, also rest crucially on how managersperceivedifferent sub-areas within the metropolitan region and the people who live in them. In this chapter, we posit that employers’ perceptions...

  10. 6 HIRING PROCEDURES AND THE ROLE OF FORMALITY
    (pp. 209-244)

    Employers recruit and screen potential employees in a wide variety of ways, ranging from word-of-mouth networks and casual interviewing to referral from state employment agencies and standardized skills tests. The contrasting views of the employers quoted here as they spoke about interviewing job applicants indicate that the search for the best candidate typically contains important elements of subjective judgment. We hypothesize that more formal techniques reduce the degree of subjectivity and hence the space for prejudice or stereotype in judgments about whom to hire—though, as we will argue, formalized methods are not always leakproof.

    In this chapter, we analyze...

  11. 7 THE MORAL OF THE TALE: DESIGNING BETTER LABOR MARKET POLICIES
    (pp. 245-274)

    Employers’ testimony, as sifted in the preceding chapters, outlines the contours of profound disadvantage for low-skilled workers, and specifically for blacks and Latinos with limited skills. This disadvantage prevails even in the jobs requiring no more than a high school education, which we have made the subject of our study. The obstacles of inadequate skills, spatial isolation, and continuing discrimination and miscommunication loom large.

    What can be done to remedy these problems, and who should do it? The roots of labor market disadvantage are deep. They include residential segregation, an unequal educational system, institutional discrimination, and the continuing restructuring of...

  12. Appendix A PROFILES OF DATA SETS USED IN THIS BOOK
    (pp. 275-277)
  13. Appendix B DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF VARIABLES
    (pp. 278-283)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 284-290)
  15. References
    (pp. 291-306)
  16. Index
    (pp. 307-317)