Insecure Employment Relations in the PostCivil Rights Period The Persistence of Racial and Gender Gaps in Hourly Employment

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Caroline Hanley
Enobong Hannah Branch


Fundamental changes in the nature of work since the 1970s have made it difficult to assess how the role of race and gender in structuring access to secure employment relations has changed in the post–Civil Rights period. This paper focuses on different forms of workplace exploitation, represented by hourly versus salaried employment, as a key faultline of intersectional inequality. Hourly employment relations represent a form of exploitation with greater potential for economic insecurity than salaried employment due to lower pay, greater scheduling instability, and greater likelihood of involuntary part-time work. The paper assesses racial and gender differences in rates of hourly employment over time, including among workers who began their working lives in the pre- and post-Civil Rights periods. Using CPS-MORG data from 1979 to 2019, the paper shows that hourly employment is highly stratified by race, as non-Hispanic Black workers hold such positions at much higher rates than non-Hispanic White workers. Gender intersects with race to shape rates of hourly employment over time. White men’s odds of hourly employment are increasing over time, signaling rising insecurity, but at a slower rate than among Black men, White women, and Black women. Long-standing patterns of relative labor market disadvantage across racial and gender groups persist despite narrowing group differences in occupational and educational attainment and the decline of pre-Civil Rights Movement workers as a share of the labor market. In a period of deepening class-based inequalities, centering evaluation of racial and gender labor market advantage on different forms of exploitation that operate across industries, occupations, and new forms of work organization provides a more comprehensive picture of the role of race and gender in shaping access to secure employment relations.

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Author Biographies

Caroline Hanley

Dr. Caroline Hanley is Associate Professor of Sociology at William & Mary. She specializes in earnings inequality, employment relations, and work.

Enobong Hannah Branch

Dr. Enobong Hannah Branch is a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. She specializes in race, gender, and labor inequality. Branch and Hanley are the co-authors of Work in Black and White: Striving for the American Dream (Russell Sage Foundation, 2022).