Economic Growth and Employment Opportunities for Minorities
reviewed by Daniel R. Fusfeld - 1965
This short but important book is most timely. It appears when employment opportunities for Negroes, our most important minority group, are an important political and economic problem. But its conclusions are largely discouraging, and lead to a call for much more effective action than has yet been undertaken.
Hiestand's book is encouraging in pointing out how Negroes have gradually advanced into occupations of higher skill over the years. But it is discouraging in documenting the fact that the economy has had to be wrenched out of its customary ways by major transformations in order to make that upgrading possible. Prior to 1910, Negroes were to be found primarily in the unskilled and service occupations. The initial breakthrough into semiskilled occupations came during the first World War. The Negro employment pattern was virtually unchanged through the relatively prosperous 1920s and tended to deteriorate in the retrograde 1930s. The second World War then saw a significant penetration of Negroes into the white-collar and skilled occupations under the impact of wartime shortages. In the 1950s, the Negro's representation in the skilled, clerical, sales, and professional occupations increased; but as yet there has been little advance into the managerial and proprietary occupations.
These conclusions lead to a qualified optimism that truly equal opportunities for employment may ultimately develop out of the gradual changes which take place in a free economy. But barring serious labor shortages, progress would seem to be glacier-slow.
Another of Hiestand's findings is terribly discouraging, however. Negroes have merely "moved in the wake of white workers" when economic growth has created broader opportunities. White workers have moved into the new fields in which labor is scarce, pay is good, advancement is relatively easy, working conditions are modern, and technology is advanced. Meanwhile, Negroes enter the older, less attractive, more stagnant fields, which appeal to them because wages are better than in the fields in which Negroes typically find the bulk of their employment. In the job domains entered by Negroes, the technology is older and subject to replacement, so the best opportunities for Negroes turn out to be the economically most vulnerable.
If these findings by Hiestand are correctand his book gives ample supporting evidence for themthe Negro will remain a second-class citizen as far as the labor market is concerned for a long time to come unless positive and concrete action is taken on a large scale.
The first need is a fully effective and national program of equal opportunity employment which goes well beyond the beginnings made in a few state FEPC laws and the federal civil rights act. How many school systems have qualified as equal opportunity employers under the federal program? And how many purchase only from equal opportunity employers? Many of them teach equality, but few practice it.
Secondand much more basicis the need for a massive program to upgrade Negro basic education and work skills. The occupational lag of Negroes is in part the result of an educational lag in both quantity and quality. Although much of the lag is because of past inequities, the differences continue: The de facto segregated downtown schools of our big cities are generally inferior to schools in the white suburbs, and probably will remain so as long as the segregation continues.
Third, both job opportunities for Negroes and funds to provide adequate education depend on continuation of rapid rates of economic growth. High levels of employment and output are essential if we are to achieve a fair society.
As the reader contemplates Hiestand's findings, he quickly realizes that the action needed to overcome the difficulties faced by Negroes in the labor market will not be readily achieved. The chief reason for the feeling of discouragement created by this book's scholarly presentation is that there will probably have to be considerably more marching in the streets before the educational and community "establishments" in this nation will be willing to move effectively.