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Arbritraging a Discriminatory Labor Market: Black Workers at the Ford Motor Company, 1918-1947

  • Christopher L. Foote
  • Warren C. Whatley
  • Gavin Wright

Before World War II, the Ford Motor Company was virtually alone in its hiring of black auto workers. If this was because other employers would not hire blacks, then the terms of employment at Ford might differ for blacks and whites. This paper uses Ford's own personnel data to test for racial differences in its terms of employment. We find that though entry wages for young workers did not differ by race, entry wages rose with age for whites but not for blacks. After being hired, most black and white workers received similar wage increases, making Ford jobs very attractive to black workers. Evidence suggests that Ford profited even without an explicit racial differential by hiring only the best black workers available and by disproportionately assigning them to the most disagreeable jobs. Ford's rigorous factory discipline facilitated racial integration and set Ford apart from other firms. While many aspects of Ford's policies were strongly progressive, Ford's response to its labor-relations constraints may have helped to perpetuate stereotypes that blacks were suited only for grimy and unpleasant work.

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Paper provided by Harvard - Institute of Economic Research in its series Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers with number 1819.

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Date of creation: 1998
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Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1819
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