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June 1982, Vol. 105, No. 6
Blacks in the 1970s:
Did they scale the job ladder?
Diane Nilsen Westcott
The proportion of workers holding white-collar jobs has increased steadily over the past few decades as employment grew quite rapidly in the professional and clerical fields. Accompanying this movement were substantial declines among private household workers and farmworkers. Each of these trends has had an impact on the employment patterns of black workers.1 Blacks made some advances in the more highly skilled occupational groups. For example, in 1960, 11 percent of black workers were in professional and technical and craft worker positions; by 1980, their proportion had almost doubled to 21 percent.
Throughout the 1960s, blacks advanced both socially and economically, making notable strides in a number of areas including educational attainment, voting rights, equal housing opportunities, and earnings, as well as in employment.2 These advancements came about during a period of favorable economic conditions; however, it was also a time of social change which saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. During the 1970-80 period, however, job opportunities and occupational mobility slowed considerably as the Nation underwent three recessions. With each contraction came periods of sustained and progressively higher levels of unemployment, accompanied by severe inflationary pressures which failed to subside over the course of the decade. Movement up the occupational scale for blacks progressed more slowly during the 1970s, as the number of black professional and craft workers increased only about half as fast as during the 1960s. Clearly, economic disruptions affected the occupational advancement not only of blacks, but of all workers as well.
Between 19723 and 1980, the number of employed blacks increased by 1.3 million, or 17 percent. Their proportion of the Nation's employed work force 9.4 percentdid not change, as the white employment level rose by 18 percent. The largest employment gains for blacks occurred in the white-collar occupations, where the four major subcategoriesprofessional and technical, managerial and administrative, sales, and clericalincreased very sharply. (See table 1.) While their advancement in these occupational categories was proportionately greater than for whites, it was not sufficient to alter materially the overall black-white proportions of the previous decade, and blacks continued to represent a disproportionately small number of white-collar workers.
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1 Unless otherwise stated, the term "black" in this article refers exclusively to the "black only" population and not to the "black and other" category which is made up of blacks, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Asian and Pacific Islanders.2 See Sylvia Small, Black Americans, A Decade of Occupational Change, Bulletin 1760 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, revised 1972). For a short history of occupational change among blacks, see "The Social and Economic Status of the Black Population in the U.S.: An Historical view, 1790-1978," Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 80 (Bureau of the Census), pp. 61-63. 3 The year 1972 was chosen for comparison with 1980, rather than 1970, because occupational data before that time are not strictly comparable with data for later years due to classification changes.
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