Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth Century? Intercity and Interregional Variation in Male Earnings in Manufacturing
Recent studies of late nineteenth century labor market integration have found that despite high rates of geographic mobility relatively large inter- and intra-regional differentials in real wages persisted with little tendency toward convergence. These results point to the absence of a unified national labor market, but the scope of these studies is limited by their reliance on comparisons of wage quotations for narrowly defined occupations. Such data are available for only a small and possibly unrepresentative segment of the labor force, and cover only a limited sample of cities and time periods. This paper uses an alternative source of data--average annual earnings calculated from the Census of Manufactures--to extend the examination of labor market integration to all male manufacturing workers in 114 cities from 1879 through 1919. In contrast to earlier research, the average earnings data indicate that a well integrated labor market had emerged in the Northeast and North Central regions of the country by 1879. They also reveal a strong tendency toward earnings convergence within the South Atlantic and South Central regions, suggesting the emergence of a unified southern labor market. Large and persistent North-South, and West-East differentials in earnings indicate, however, that despite the integration of regional labor markets after the Civil War, a unified national labor market had not yet developed.
Published: Rosenbloom, Joshua L. "Was There A National Labor Market At The End Of The Nineteenth Century? New Evidence On Earnings In Manufacturing," Journal of Economic History, 1996, v56(3,Sep), 626-656.