This paper tests whether employers responded particularly negatively to African American job applicants during the deep U.S. recession that began in 2007. Theories of labor queuing and social closure posit that members of privileged groups will act to minimize labor market competition in times of economic turbulence, which could advantage Whites relative to African Americans. Although social closure should be weakest in the less desirable, low-wage job market, it may extend downward during recessions, pushing minority groups further down the labor queue and exacerbating racial inequalities in hiring. We consider two complementary data sources: (1) a field experiment with a randomized block design and (2) the nationally representative NLSY97 sample. Contrary to expectations, both analyses reveal a comparable recession-based decline in job prospects for White and African American male applicants, implying that hiring managers did not adapt new forms of social closure and demonstrating the durability of inequality even in times of structural change. Despite this proportionate drop, however, the recession left African Americans in an extremely disadvantaged position. Whites during the recession obtained favorable responses from employers at rates similar to African Americans prior to the recession. The combination of experimental methods and nationally representative longitudinal data yields strong evidence on how race and recession affect job prospects in the low-wage labor market.
This research was supported by the JEHT Foundation and the National Institute of Justice (grant 2007-IJ-CX-0042). We are indebted to the Council on Crime and Justice, as well as Ebony Ruhland and Hilary Whitham, for their integral role in conducting this project. We owe special thanks to Devah Pager for consulting on the original project from which this paper emerged, and Erin Kelly, Suzy McElrath, Heather McLaughlin, Vincent Roscigno, and Kevin Stainback for valuable feedback.
Vuolo, M., Uggen, C. and Lageson, S. (2017), "Race, Recession, and Social Closure in the Low-Wage Labor Market: Experimental and Observational Evidence", Emerging Conceptions of Work, Management and the Labor Market (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 30), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 141-183. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0277-283320170000030007
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