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


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


June 2001 The experience of the Ford Motor Co. from 1918-1947 provides a unique opportunity to study a firm willing to employ significant numbers of black workers when similar firms would not. An analysis of Ford employee records over this period suggests that Ford did profit from discrimination at other auto firms, but not by hiring black workers at low wages. An apparent "wage equity constraint" resulted in virtually no racial variation in wages, with the result that the quit rate of blacks at Ford workers was far lower than that of whites, holding working conditions constant. One source of Ford's profits from "arbitraging" the discriminatory labor market, however, came about precisely because it did not hold working conditions constant, placing blacks disproportionately in the hot and dangerous metal foundry where quit rates were generally high. In addition to exploiting this working-condition margin, Ford's policy of hiring blacks may have also helped the company lower overall wages, increase shop floor effort, and fight unions, providing additional sources of arbitrage profit even the face of the wage equity constraint. Working Papers Index

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  • Christopher L. Foote & Warren C. Whatley & Gavin Wright, 2001. "Arbitraging a Discriminatory Labor Market: Black Workers at the Ford Motor Company, 1918-1947," Working Papers 01009, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:stanec:01009

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    1. Donohue, John J, III & Heckman, James, 1991. "Continuous versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 1603-1643, December.
    2. Sundstrom, William A., 1992. "Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(02), pages 415-429, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Depew, Briggs & Sørensen, Todd A., 2013. "The elasticity of labor supply to the firm over the business cycle," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 196-204.
    2. Depew, Briggs & Sorensen, Todd A., 2011. "Elasticity of Supply to the Firm and the Business Cycle," IZA Discussion Papers 5928, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Callaway, Brantly & Collins, William J., 2018. "Unions, workers, and wages at the peak of the American labor movement," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 95-118.
    4. Lanning, Jonathan A., 2014. "A search model with endogenous job destruction and discrimination: Why equal wage policies may not eliminate wage disparity," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 55-71.

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