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The Abstract

Racial Makeup of Labor Markets Affects Who Gets Job Leads

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Research from North Carolina State University and Rice University finds that the racial composition of a labor market plays a significant role in whether workers find out about job leads – regardless of the race of the worker.

For example, in a job market that was 20 percent white, there was a 25 percent probability that someone in that market had gotten an unsolicited job lead in the past year (regardless of his or her race). But in a market that was 80 percent white, there was a 60 percent probability of someone having gotten such a lead.

“We wanted to understand how the racial composition of job markets affected the availability of job leads for workers,” says Steve McDonald, an associate professor of sociology at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. “We found that race matters, and that race-related bias in recruiting can adversely impact job opportunities for workers in minority-dominated occupations.”

The researchers evaluated data from a survey of 642 workers from the 23 largest U.S. cities in 11 broad occupation groups – such as management, sales or the service sector. Specifically, the researchers looked at information that survey respondents provided in each city on their job and the number of unsolicited job leads they received in casual conversation over the previous year.

The researchers then used census data to determine the racial composition of the labor market in each respondent’s city and occupation group.

“We found that the whiter the labor market, the more job leads survey respondents reported – regardless of the race of the respondent,” says Peter Knepper, a Ph.D. student at NC State and co-author of the study.

The results held true for workers of all races, even when researchers controlled for things like gender, age and the size of each worker’s social network.

“One thing I found particularly interesting was that it didn’t matter which city you were in, or what type of occupation you had; what mattered was the racial composition of the labor market,” Lindsay Hamm, Ph.D. student and co-author, says.

The findings indicate that employers in white labor markets are more likely to use social networks and informal approaches to recruit workers.

James Elliott, an associate professor of sociology at Rice University and co-author of the study, adds that it also indicates that, “when minority workers do receive unsolicited job information it tends to lead to employment where that type of information then dries up. In other words, the flow of job leads changes based not on you as an individual but on the race of people doing your job.”

“Presumably, this is due to a preference – conscious or subconscious – for white workers,” McDonald says. “One of the things this drives home is that, if businesses take diversity seriously and want to diversify their workforce, they need to look beyond their social networks for job candidates.”

The researchers are now building on this work by examining larger samples of workers, more specific occupation categories, and smaller geographic areas within cities.

The paper, “Race, Place, and Unsolicited Job Leads: How the Ethnoracial Structure of Local Labor Markets Shapes Employment Opportunities,” was published online Dec. 22 in the journal Social Currents.