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Rembrand Koning

Research Findings

The troubling return of workplace racial segregation

July 17, 2019

The United States struggles with a long history of racial employment segregation.  Exclusionary hiring based on race was only banned in 1964, and enforcement only gained teeth when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) set to work in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

We know that segregation declined significantly during the “long decade of enforcement,” through the early 1980s. Since then, though, progress seems to have stalled. Sociologists have repeatedly studied occupational segregation—how separated races are between different jobs—and found that it has barely moved in more than a generation. Yet even this is too rosy a picture.

There are two broad ways to think about employment segregation. One is occupational, as already mentioned. The other might be called establishment segregation—how separated races are between different workplaces. (An establishment is an individual workplace; think a McDonald’s restaurant, not the McDonalds corporation.) On this dimension, U.S. workplaces have backslid to where they were in the mid-1970s.

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