Who Can Access the “Good” Jobs? Racial Disparities in Employment among Young Men Who Work in Paid Care

AuthorShengwei Sun
Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
/tmp/tmp-17dPxV8LFrVVW6/input 897249ANN
Men have slowly increased their presence in paid care
jobs that have long been considered as “women’s jobs.”
But job growth in the paid care sector is polarized
between “good” jobs and “bad” jobs in terms of pay and
job security, and racial minority men are more likely to
enter low-paying care-work jobs. Using work history
data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
1979 and 1997, this study examines the patterns and
mechanisms of racial disparity in young men’s access to
Who Can
jobs of varying pay levels in the care-work sector and
how such patterns have changed as the labor market
Access the
has become more precarious and unequal. Findings
suggest that young black men—especially those with-
out a college education—have been increasingly
“Good” Jobs? excluded from accessing “good” jobs in the paid care
sector. Moreover, this black-white disparity cannot be
fully explained by racial differences in individual-level
Disparities in Keywords: racial inequality; division of labor; economic
restructuring; job polarization; queuing;
care work
among Young
Men Who Work Job prospects for young people in the United
States have been deteriorating for more than
two decades as a result of structural changes in
in Paid Care
the labor market. We know from existing litera-
ture that young adults fare worse than older
workers under adverse labor market condi-
tions, not only in the rates of finding and keep-
ing jobs, but also in the quality of jobs available
to them (Kalleberg 2019). The issue of unem-
ployment among young workers has received
much attention among scholars and policy-
makers, as an extensive body of research
Shengwei Sun is a postdoctoral fellow in the Weidenbaum
Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy
at the Washington University in St. Louis. She studies
how changing socioeconomic contexts shape gender,
race, and class inequalities in different national settings.
NOTE: The author acknowledges support from the
National Science Foundation (Grant #SES-1738396).
Correspondence: s.sun@wustl.edu
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219897249
ANNALS, AAPSS, 688, March 2020 55

documents the long-term consequences of unemployment on young adults’
career prospects, family formation, and subjective well-being. Young black work-
ers with low levels of education have the highest level of unemployment and are
hardest hit during an economic downturn (Hout, Levannon, and Cumberworth
2011). Even among job holders, young workers today are entering a labor market
characterized by increasing polarization between “good” jobs and “bad” jobs in
terms of wage, status, and relative job security (Kalleberg 2011). The racial
stratification processes underlying who is able to access the diminishing share of
“good” jobs remain understudied.
As “good” jobs become scarcer in the labor market overall, and as traditionally
male-dominated sectors requiring less than a college education have declined,
well-paying jobs in the growing paid care sector may become an increasingly
important pathway of career mobility for men. Jobs in care work provide a par-
ticular kind of service that enhances the health, well-being, or development of
other people. Many of these jobs involve emotional labor while others entail
physical labor (Duffy 2005; England 1992). Broadly defined, they constitute a
“care economy” encompassing a wide range of occupations in education, health
care, child care, long-term care, social work, domestic services, and others.
Except for a few high-paying occupations, such as being a doctor, paid care work
has mostly been considered “women’s work,” as it has been historically per-
formed by women at home without monetary compensation. The growing
demand for care services has fueled the expansion of the care economy in the
United States, at a time when traditionally male-dominated sectors have been on
the decline. Paid care work not only outperformed other sectors in adding jobs
during the economic recovery after the Great Recession, but it is projected to
continue its strong growth in the upcoming decade (Hartmann, Shaw, and
Pandya 2013). Against this backdrop, an increasing number of young men have
entered occupations in paid care.
Men’s entry into paid care work, however, is shaped by larger economic condi-
tions and existing racial inequalities that render its pattern highly unequal. First,
the growth of paid care work is polarized in pay and job quality. Many jobs in the
education and health care sectors offer comfortable wages and stable employ-
ment, and yet jobs in care work that involve more menial labor, such as cleaning,
food preparation, and direct care, are among the lowest paid. A recent study finds
that the growth of care-work jobs contributed significantly to the overall job
polarization pattern over the past three decades (Dwyer 2013). In contrast, job
growth in construction and transportation during the same period was much less
polarized, concentrated in the middle of the wage range. For men, care-work
jobs have been growing at a higher rate than other types of jobs both at the lower
end and the upper-middle end of the income distribution since the early 1980s.
In this regard, the paid care sector differentiates from traditionally male-
dominated sectors in its highly unequal growth pattern. Second, this polarizing
growth pattern of the paid care sector is characterized by racial disparity, with
white men occupying the highest-paying care-work jobs (Dwyer 2013). Existing
studies on this topic have focused on aggregate-level patterns but not the mecha-
nisms. The polarized growth of paid care work affords the opportunity to examine

the racial stratification processes underlying who can access the “good” jobs and
who is relegated to the “bad” jobs and how these processes may have persisted or
changed under job polarization.
This study examines the patterns and mechanisms of racial disparity in young
men’s access to jobs of varying pay levels in the growing paid care-work sector
and how such patterns have changed as the labor market has become more pre-
carious and unequal. Informed by job queuing theory and social closure theory,
I ask, Do racial minority men and white men have equal access to well-paying
care-work jobs in today’s economy? And if not, what factors contribute to this
disparity? To what extent is it driven by racial disparity in education and labor
market position, and to what extent can it be attributed to status distinctions by
race? A key concern of this study is whether, as the “good” jobs become scarcer
relative to low-wage jobs and the competition for these jobs intensifies, does that
competition foster more exclusion on the basis of race? This study addresses
these questions by examining the determinants of entering low-wage versus well-
paying care-work jobs among two cohorts of young men (late Baby Boomers and
early Millennials, aged 18 to 34) who joined the workforce under different labor
market conditions.1 The late Boomer cohort launched their careers in the 1980s,
when there was robust growth in well-paying jobs; whereas the early Millennial
cohort entered the labor market around 2000 and thereafter, when the overall
quality of new jobs has been downgraded. I find that net education level, work
experience, and labor market position, black men still have a higher risk of enter-
ing jobs in low-wage care work as compared to white men for the earlier cohort,
while white men’s advantage over black men in accessing well-paying care-work
jobs remains for the later cohort. I argue that these changing patterns of racial
inequality correspond to larger job growth patterns since the 1980s, suggesting a
persisting logic of a racialized labor queue and intensified “social closure” pro-
cesses excluding black men—especially those without a college education—from
accessing “good” jobs in the expanding paid care-work sector.
Economic restructuring and changing patterns of job growth since the 1980s
The workplace has been dramatically transformed in the United States over
the past few decades, characterized by growing job polarization between high-
and low-wage jobs (Autor, Katz, and Kearney 2006; Wright and Dwyer 2003).
Facing intensified global competition and declining profits, corporate employers
have adopted a series of strategies to undermine labor power, including hiring
part-time, contingent workers; opting for temporary staffing agencies for person-
nel; and waging attacks on unions (Kalleberg 2011). The United States has lost
millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs that require less than a college educa-
tion, while the service sector has expanded with a polarized set of high-skill, high-
wage and low-skill, low-wage jobs.

Moreover, the job polarization trend has not been monotonic over the past
three decades. Disaggregated by time periods, employment growth in the 1980s
was robust in the middle and strong at the top of the wage distribution, whereas
the employment growth in the 2000s was largely driven by the growth of low-
paying jobs (Autor 2015; Holzer 2010). Young adults who entered the workforce
in the...

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