A Long Line For Fast Food Jobs

All welfare-reform proposals share a goal: to push recipients to get jobs. But just how easy is it for people to find work--even low-wage, low-skill jobs?

Not so easy, it turns out. In the inner cities, fast-food jobs have become "the object of fierce competition," according to an article in The American Prospect by anthropologist Katherine Newman and doctoral candidate Chauncy Lennon, both of Columbia University. Fast-food outlets now employ more than 2.3 million workers and are gaining on the armed forces as a gateway to the world of work. So Newman and Lennon studied the work histories of 200 people employed in such eateries in Harlem.

Among their findings: Workers in their 20s, often high school graduates, dominate these minimum-wage jobs once taken by dropouts and young people just starting out. Legal immigrants tend to be favored over native-born applicants in securing entry-level work. Friends and family members who have jobs help people to get work, putting others who are isolated from such networks at a disadvantage. Employers, including black employers, favor applicants who are not African American. While blacks are hardly shut out of the low-wage market--they represent about 70% of the new hires in these jobs--they are rejected at a much higher rate than applicants from other ethnic groups who have the same qualifications, say the authors.

At restaurants where the respondents worked, applicants outnumber hires 14 to 1. This glut of job-seekers means that workers in ghetto services are more highly qualified than before, the authors note. Welfare recipients will have to get at the end of a long line.

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