38 Soc. Probs. 433 (1991)
Hiring Strategies, Racial Bias, and Inner-City Workers

handle is hein.journals/socprob38 and id is 443 raw text is: Hiring Strategies, Racial Bias, and Inner-
City Workers*
KATHRYN M. NECKERMAN, University of Chicago
JOLEEN KIRSCHENMAN, University of Chicago
This article explores the ways employers' hiring strategies affect the employment chances of inner-city
blacks, using a recent survey of 185 Chicago-area firms. The authors find that employers commonly direct
recruitment efforts to white neighborhoods and avoid recruitment sources that bring them a disproportionately
inner-city black labor force; when they do draw applicants from poor black neighborhoods, they tend to use labor
market intermediaries to recruit workers. There is also evidence that inner-city blacks often do poorly in job
interviews in part because they lack the work experience that is so often a focal point of the interview, and in part
because of race and class related differences in culture. Finally, there is preliminary evidence that skills testing is
associated with higher proportions of black workers in entry-level jobs, suggesting that more objective means of
screening prospective employees provide less latitude for racial bias. Racial bias appears to occur as employers
search for productive workers and could be reduced by developing more effective ways for job applicants to
demonstrate their skills.
Employers and black job applicants encounter one another in a specific context of race
and class relations. Widespread publicity, emphasizing poor schools, drug use, crime, and
welfare dependency, shapes the way city residents view the inner city and whom they associ-
ate with it. These perceptions shade the relations between black and white, middle class and
poor, sometimes engendering suspicion, resentment, and misunderstanding (Anderson 1990).
Given the uncertainty that characterizes most hiring decisions, it is likely that these per-
ceptions and strained relations influence employers' hiring practices. For instance, employers
might recruit selectively in order to avoid inner-city residents because of expectations that
they would be poor employees. Race and class misunderstanding or tension might be mani-
fest in the job interview itself. If hiring practices are largely subjective, the influence of these
perceptions about the inner city may be even more influential than would otherwise be the
Using data from interviews with Chicago employers, we examine employers' hiring strat-
egies and consider their potential for racial bias. We focus on three hiring practices: selective
recruitment, job interviews, and employment tests. We examine employers' views of differ-
ent categories of workers and the way these preconceptions guide their recruitment strategies,
and then discuss employers' accounts of job interviews with inner-city blacks. Finally, we
examine the relationship between employment testing and black representation in entry-
* This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Sociological
Association, August, 1990, in Washington, D.C. The survey on which this research is based was conducted as part of the
Urban Poverty and Family Structure project directed by William Julius Wilson at the University of Chicago. That project
received funding from the following sources: the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute for Research on
Poverty, the Spencer Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Woods Charitable
Fund. We gratefully acknowledge their support. We would also like to thank Daniel Breslau, Judy Mintz, Lori Sparzo,
and Loic Wacquant who helped conduct the interviews. Finally, we thank Grant Blank, Amado Cabezas, Sharon Collins,
Kermit Daniel, Michael Emerson, Barbara Reskin, Seth Sanders, Jeffrey A. Smith, Richard Taub, and anonymous
reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. Correspondence to: Neckerman, Department of
Sociology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 38, No. 4, November 1991

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