The Work of Cities: Underemployment and Urban Change in Late-20th-Century America
Elliott, James R.
This research moves beyond preoccupations with deindustrialization, joblessness, and the urban “underclass” to examine the role that cities and urbanization in general have played in the reorganization of production and local labor markets. After reviewing recent work on global cities, new industrial districts, and the “new” social division of labor, the author used Census data to examine the extent and relative causes of rising underemployment in U.S. metropolitan areas during 1950–90. Several key findings emerge. First, underemployment increased 35 percent between 1970 and 1990, largely due to shifts in structural rather than personal factors. Second, most of this structural shift occurred within industries, not across them. Third, the consequences of these shifts have been most dramatic at the bottom rather than the top of the urban hierarchy, despite recent claims regarding global cities. Fourth, factors associated with the new social division of labor characterized by growing numbers of smaller workplaces and “routine” business service firms offer the strongest empirical explanation for rising underemployment in local metropolitan areas. Implications are discussed.