35 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2011 Last revised: 26 Aug 2011
Date Written: July 22, 2011
This paper explores the history of African Americans in the U.S. economy since emancipation. With the end of the Civil War, some four million former slaves had gained their freedom, but the freed people faced daunting economic challenges, including poverty, illiteracy, and discrimination. Despite these adverse conditions, the economic status of African Americans improved over the ensuing century, if haltingly and unevenly. Progress was driven by three major forces. First, both inside and outside the South, black educational gains narrowed the black-white skill gap. Second, black workers moved to opportunities in burgeoning urban labor markets. Third, especially during the 1960s, racial discrimination in labor and other markets declined under pressure from the civil rights movement, equal opportunity law, and diminishing racial prejudice on the part of whites. The decades since the achievements of the 1960s present a decidedly more mixed picture. Overt racial discrimination plays a less substantial role in limiting the opportunities of African Americans in the U.S. economy than it did half a century ago. On the other hand, progress toward narrowing the economic gaps between blacks and whites has stagnated. Particularly concerning has been the concentration of poverty and social dislocation in inner-city neighborhoods, exploding black male incarceration rates, and the large and persistent racial skill gap.
Keywords: African Americans, discrimination, inequality, race
JEL Classification: J3, J7, N3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Sundstrom, William A., African Americans in the U.S. Economy Since Emancipation (July 22, 2011). SCU Leavey School of Business Research Paper No. 11-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1895596 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1895596