The author searches for patterns in the African American response to immigrants in several metropolitan areas with above-average immigrant populations, to examine whether immigration has had a negative effect of the labor market participation of African Americans. He finds that although the emergence and persistence of ethnic niches testify to the pervasive effects of social structures, the growing educational level of African Americans since the 1970s has also equipped them for jobs that immigrants found hard to obtain. The proportion of African Americans workers whose limited schooling confines them to such jobs as apparel manufacturing or domestic work has declined. In particular, African Americans have found a niche in the public sector, a shift that may have diminished the effects of immigrant competition and put them in a position to absorb the positive effects associated with the population gains produced by immigration. However, because public-sector employment requires formal educational credentials, it is difficult for the least-skilled African Americans to exploit the ethnic networks implanted in government employment. Instead, they must find employment in a market increasingly saturated with immigrants. Moreover, although the public sector is now a declining enterprise, more and more immigrants or their descendants want greater access to public-sector jobs. The only viable long-term alternative is to create more private-sector employment opportunities, especially for African Americans with limited schooling.

Originally published in: Strangers at the Gates: New Immigrants in Urban America, pp. 186-227.

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