The Employment and Economic Advancement of African-Americans in the Twentieth Century

1 JINDAL J. OF PUB. POL. 95-116 (2013)

25 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2013 Last revised: 27 Dec 2014

Date Written: April 19, 2013


The African American experience in the American economy in the Twentieth Century has been a story of many successes, and more than a few unfulfilled promises. Brought in chains to the poorest region of the United States to do the least desirable work, and purposely denied education in order to preserve their subjugation, African Americans began the Twentieth Century on the lowest rung of the American economic ladder doing predominantly low-skilled, low-wage agricultural labor in the poorest region of our country. However, over the course of the century, African Americans were able to overcome express and implicit discrimination to climb the economic ladder and achieve success in new regions and new occupations and professions. African Americans still suffer many disadvantages that diminish their economic success, particularly males and particularly in education, but certainly in comparison with the previous three centuries, the Twentieth Century marked important advancements in African American economic opportunity and success.

In this essay, we will examine how African Americans achieved the economic progress they made during the Twentieth Century. We do this by examining their progress along four vectors of economic opportunity - geographical distribution, labor force participation, occupational distribution, and educational attainment - and then examine the resulting improvement in relative economic rewards. We will also examine the impact that the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Act and affirmative action policies have had on this progress. We will see that, from an economic perspective, the story of African American success in the Twentieth Century is one of overcoming discrimination by moving from a situation of relatively constrained economic opportunities, to gain access to, and success in, an ever larger and more rewarding set of opportunities across the country. It is hoped that the recounting of the success of African Americans in achieving greater economic success by using the law and their own initiative to gain access to new geographic, occupational, and educational opportunities will serve as an inspirational and educational lesson for India’s Dalits in their own struggle for equal opportunities.

Keywords: Race, African American, Advancement, Civil Rights, Wages, Education

JEL Classification: J7, J70, J71, J78, J79, J11, J21, J28

Suggested Citation

Dau-Schmidt, Kenneth Glenn and Sherman, Ryland, The Employment and Economic Advancement of African-Americans in the Twentieth Century (April 19, 2013). 1 JINDAL J. OF PUB. POL. 95-116 (2013), Available at SSRN: or

Kenneth Glenn Dau-Schmidt (Contact Author)

Indiana University, Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States
812-855-0697 (Phone)
812-855-0555 (Fax)

Ryland Sherman

Independent ( email )

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