Category Archives: Labor Studies

Labor Studies Paper

Supply, demand, and free entry and exit into the open market is the basis of what economist call mainstream economics.  Mainstream economics can be viewed as neither being discriminatory nor sexist under the assumption that competitive market economies, which are profit motivated, provide a natural antidote to employer discrimination.  On the other hand, political economy is, “The theory or study of the role of public policy in influencing the economic and social welfare of a political unit.” (Webster, 2011)  In American society, “Skin colors and facial features commonly used to define race are selected precisely because, when arranged hierarchically, they resemble the country’s class-and-status hierarchy.  Thus, whites are on top of the socioeconomic pecking order as they are on top of the racial one, while variously shaded non-whites are below them in socioeconomic position (class) and prestige (status).  The darkest people are for the most part t the bottom of the class-status hierarchy.” (Gans, 2005, p. 109)  Because of this, all races, classes, and/or genders other than those of white European decent are typically subjected to racism, classism, and/or sexism in American society.  “In this racist typology, some ethnic differences- differences in language, culture, and social practices- were interpreted as racial and hence natural in origin.  The different social and economic practices societies of color were viewed by whites in the nineteenth century as “savage,” in need of the “civilizing” influence of white domination.” (Amott and Matthaei, 1996, p. 17)  This type of underling discrimination can be observed from the standpoint of several groups both throughout American history and units 1 thru 10.  For example, Ronald T. Takaki (1993) noted: “The Irish came here in greater numbers than most immigrant groups.  Their history has been tied to America’s past from the very beginning and the Irish were the first group that the English called “savages.”  They were also what historian Lawrence J. McCaffrey called “the pioneers of the American urban ghetto.”  The Irish came at about the same time as the Chinese, but they had a distinct advantage: The Naturalization Law of 1970 had reserved citizenship for “whites” only.  Their compatible complexion allowed them to assimilate by blending into American society.” (p. 53)    

To begin, women of color hold the lowest class, race and gender in American society/economic hierarchy.  “One-third of all Blacks were poor in 1992.  A full 18 percent of Black women were living on less than half of the poverty-line income, compared to 15 percent of Black men, 5 percent white women, and 4 percent white men.  Further, Blacks are far less likely to escape poverty than are whites.  Black poverty tends to be concentrated among female heads of household, particularly those with children, and inner-city ghettos.” (Amott and Matthaei, 1996, p. 190)  Throughout American history, this trend has often forced African American women as a group to live, work, socialize and raise children, at many times with no help, along the outer margin of the American political economy.  On the contrary, their counterparts, white women, often share or dominate the center if for no other reason than just being white.  “A minority of the dominated race is allowed some upward mobility and ranks economically above whites.  At the same time, however, all whites have some people of color below them.  For example, there are upper-class Black, Chicana, and Puerto Rican women who are more economically privilege than poor white women: however, there are always people of color who are less economically privileged than the poorest white women.” (Amott and Matthaei, 1996, p. 19)  Just because upward mobility may be present in society, it doesn’t mean that it will be equally or legally enforced.  “With the creative variability of all illegality, some bank use the racial information disclosed on fair housing forms to engage in precisely the discrimination the law seeks to prevent.  The banks response was driven by demographic data that shows that any time black people move into a neighborhood, whites are overwhelmingly likely to move out.  In droves.  In panic.  In concert.” (Martinez, 1998, p. 94)  With this type of racial profiling, how would an individual on the lower end of both the racial and economical hierarchy ever break through the glass ceiling?   Amott and Matthaei (1996) stated: “In 1995, a bipartisan Federal Glass ceiling Commission released a comprehensive study of the obstacles to promotion.  According to the report, white women and people of color do not receive mentoring and support from their white male colleagues, and face a number of stereotypes in the workplace.  Blacks, Chicanas/os, and U.S. Puerto Ricans continue to be segregated into ghettos with inferior schooling and few employment opportunities other than the corner McDonald’s, the local hospital or convalescent home, or the underground economy.  For most men and women of color, the metaphor that best describes their place in the labor market is not a glass ceiling; rather, it is a “sticky floor,” symbolizing their inability to rise above low-wage secondary-sector jobs.” (p. 347)  “African-American poor still face the most formidable obstacles to upward mobility.  Close to a majority of working-age African-American men are jobless or out of the labor force.  Many women, including single mothers, no work in the low-wage economy, but they must do without most of the support systems that help middle-class working mothers.  Both federal and state governments have been punitive, even in recent Democratic administrations, and the Republicans have cut back nearly every antipoverty program they cannot abolish.” (Gans, 2005, p. 113)

“White women and people of color are more likely to be the “first fired” during an economic downturn.  Furthermore, in severe downturns, as people have lost their jobs, they have searched for work further down the occupational hierarchy, pushing out those beneath them.  That is, white men have displaced men of color, and white women have displaced women of color.” (Amott and Matthaei, 1996, p. 321) When this happens, the entire economy begins to reverse on itself and there becomes a shortage of rental vouchers/subsidies, food stamps, and/or T.A.N.F (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) which still does not equally support everyone if any in the struggling economy.  The economic policy institute noted, “The shrinkage of social support is not only affecting the very poor, however.  Job benefits in the form of health insurance, pensions and so forth for all workers have declined.  Following job loss, less than half of U.S. workers are currently eligible for unemployment insurance.” (Collins, 2000, p. 66) “But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.” (Roosevelt, 1932)  “Unemployment rates also varied substantially across groups, and were highest for those racial-ethnic groups on the bottom of the income hierarchy.  Amott and Matthaei (1996) stated: “Unemployment rates for Chicanas/os, African Americans, American Indians, and Puerto Ricans all ranged from two to over four times higher than those for Asian and white men and women.  Among American Indians, African Americans, Chicanas/os, and the U.S. Puerto Ricans, incomes per person (the total income earned by the group divided by the number in the group) were less than three-fifths those of European Americans.” (p. 349)  There has always been injustice, inequality, and discrimination in both the American workforce and public polices which continuously foster racism and wealth gaps in both the overall mainstream economy and the American political economy.  “In 1986, the super-rich (the richest one-half of one percent of the households) owned 35 percent of the total wealth in our country, over 70 times the share they would have had if wealth were equally distributed.  The richest tenth of all households owned 72 percent of all wealth, over seven times their fair share.  This extreme concentration of wealth conveys a concentration of leisure and power over others into the hands of a small number of households, a concentration which is perpetuated through the generations by inheritance laws and customs.  At the other end of the hierarchy, in 1986, the poorest 90 percent of households owned only 28 percent of total wealth, and had to send at least one household member out to work for the household’s survival.”  (Amott and Matthaei, 1996, p. 23)  If American society were truly ran like a competitive firm in a perfectly competitive market, these type of wealth differences wouldn’t be so vast and large.  “On the poverty scale, African American and Native Americans have always been at the bottom, with Latinos nearby.  In 1995 the U.S. Census found that Latinos have the highest poverty rate, 24 percent.  Segregation may have been legally abolished in the 1960’s, but now the United States is rapidly moving toward resegregation as a result of whites moving to the suburbs.  This leaves people of color-especially Blacks and Latinos-with inner cities that lack an adequate tax base and thus have inadequate schools.” (Martinez, 1998, p. 89)  “Poverty in the United States is systematic.  It is a direct result of economic and political policies that deprive people of jobs, adequate wages, or legitimate support.  It is neither natural nor inevitable: there is enough wealth in our nation to eliminate poverty if we chose to redistribute wealth or income.” (Mantsios, 1998, P. 389)

In purely competitive markets, one in which the American mainstream economic system is centered around, monopolies and oligopolies don’t exist.  On the contrary, Teresa Amott and Julie Matthaei noted, “Protective services was monopolized by white men for decades.  In 1900, white men accounted for only 72 percent of the labor force, but made up 97 percent of all policemen, firemen, and watchmen.” (p. 329)  To further illustrate, in the 1990’s: “Upper-tier primary jobs- varied greatly by group, from a high 45 percent of all Chinese American men to a low of only 17 percent of Chicanas and African American men.  The shares of women in upper-tier primary jobs were the highest- over 30 percent- among Japanese American, Chinese Americans, and European Americans.  These shares exceeded those of both male and female American Indians, U.S. Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Chicanas/os, and Filipinas/os.  White men still help the majority of these elite jobs (61 percent): added to white women’s 31 percent share, this created a near monopoly for whites, who help 92 percent of the total.” (Amott and Matthaei, 1996, p. 343)   All races with the exception to African Americans, U.S. Puerto Ricans, Chicanas/os, and Filipinas/os have received some form of blanching, in terms of social status rather than physical appearance, throughout American history.  “As the cultural and other differences of the original European immigrants disappeared, their descendants became known as white ethnics.  When enough of these descendants became visibly middle class, their skin was seen as fully white.  The biological skin color of the second and third generations had not changed, but it was socially blanched or whitened.  In fact, they are already sometimes thought of as honorary whites, and later in the 21 century they may well turn into a new set of white ethnics.” (Gans, 2005, p. 111)

To conclude, the main focal point in mainstream economics is that in a free market system, an individual’s personal pursuit of profits and upward mobility will have an “invisible hand” effect which in turn will open doors, new opportunities and allow other citizen to prosper along the way.  However, the rewards of one’s personal profits don’t necessarily have to spill over to the rest of the economy.  “In a 1987 speech, Gary S. Backer, a University of Chicago economist who would later win a Nobel Prize, summed up the research by saying that mobility in the United States was so high that very little advantage was passed down from one generation to the next.  In fact, researchers seemed to agree that the grandchildren of privilege and of poverty would be on nearly equal footing.  The new studies of mobility, which methodically track people’s earnings over decades, have found far less movement.  The economic advantage once believed to last only two to three generations is now believed to last closer to five.  Mobility happens, just not as rapidly as was once thought….” (Scott and Leonhardt, 2005, 118)  History is like a revolving door; it constantly repeats itself!  Woodrow Wilson (1913) noted, “A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.”  This statement continues to hold validity even today due to the current debt crisis which was brought on by providing too much supply and two political parties not receiving what they demanded.  John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy (1957), the 35th president of the United States, once stated, “A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today – and in fact we have forgotten.”  Based not only on what I’ve seen but also from the views/idea of many radical economists, American Society seems to be based on false perceptions and political rhetoric.  To illustrate Zachary A. Goldfarb (2011), a staff writer for The Washing Post, directly noted: “While the U.S. government’s 14.3 trillion debt is an eye-popping figure, the country has plenty of resources.  Consider the government’s debt.  Almost half of the government’s debt- 6 trillion- is money it owes itself, for instance to the Federal Reserve or social security.  Another #3.9 trillion is owed to U.S. investors, investment funds and companies.  The country as a whole owes the rest of the world a far modest $2.5 trillion on the balance of the trillions that Americans have invested abroad.”  The current debt crisis, forced on the one’s who hold the highest rank/status in society, has caused widespread panic in the financial sector, the private sector, the public sector and within all other groups/sectors regardless of race, class, and/or gender.  Like Franklin D. Roosevelt (1944) stated, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”


Works Cited Page

Amott, T., Matthaei, J. (1996).  Race, Gender, and Work:

A Multicultural History of Women in the United States.

Boston, MA:  South End Press

Collins, P. H. (2000).  Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and Empowerment

In Margaret Andersen & Patricia Collins (7th Ed.), Race, Class & Gender (pp. 61-86).

Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth


Gans, H. J. (2005).  Race as Class.

In Margaret Andersen & Patricia Collins (7th Ed.), Race, Class & Gender (pp. 108-115).

Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth


Goldfarb, Z. A. (2011, July 31).  We’re rich, so why are in debt trouble all of a sudden?

The Washington Post.  Retrieved from


Mantsios, G. (1998).  Making Class Invisible

In Margaret Andersen & Patricia Collins (7th Ed.), Race, Class & Gender (pp. 386-394).

Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth


Martinez, E. (1998).  Seeing More than Black and White..

In Margaret Andersen & Patricia Collins (7th Ed.), Race, Class & Gender (pp. 87-95).

Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth


Scott, J., Leonhardt, D. (2005).  Shadowy Lines that Still Divide.

In Margaret Andersen & Patricia Collins (7th Ed.), Race, Class & Gender (pp. 153-159).

Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth


Takaki, R. (1993).  A Different Mirror.

In Margaret Andersen & Patricia Collins (7th Ed.), Race, Class & Gender (pp. 49-59).

Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth


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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Labor Studies