The Decline in Black Teenage Labor Force Participation in the South, 1900-1970: The Role of Schooling
Between 1950 and 1970 the labor force participation rate of southern black males aged 16-19 declined by 27 percentage points. This decline has been attributed to two demand-side shocks: the mechanization of cotton agriculture in the 1950s and extensions in the coverage of the federal minimum wage in the 1960s. We show, however, that participation rates of southern black teens fell continuously between 1900 and 1950. The proximate causes of the pre-1950 decline in black teen participation were increases in school enrollment rates and decreases in labor force participation by teens enrolled in school. Because the underlying causes of both effects had not run their course by mid-century, we conclude that about half of the post-1950 decline in black teen participation in the South would have occurred even if cotton agriculture had not mechanized in the 1950s or coverage of the minimum wage had not been extended in the 1960s.