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New Careers for the Poor: Human Services and the Post-Industrial City

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In the 1960s, a new and popular theory of “new careers” proposed to address urban poverty and deindustrialization by growing the human services sector and hiring so-called nonprofessional workers to aid the delivery of those services. This strategy gained traction in social scientific, philanthropic, and bureaucratic circles and shaped Great Society legislation, which allocated federal grants to create entry-level jobs and professionalizing career ladders in the fields of health, education, and welfare. The implementation of this strategy had consequences for the human service organizations that received federal funds, as well as for the people hired into the new positions. Instead of building ladders to professional employment, efforts produced dead-end positions that left the predominantly African American women hired as aides in poverty. Even as the new careers experiment helped usher in a post-industrial economy, it reinforced the stratification of the labor market along lines of race, gender, and credentials.