Photographs from the riots that spread across American cities in the 1960s capture a telling detail about the era. The incensed communities, as history well remembers, were black. And, invariably, the police officers were white.
The Kerner Commission appointed by Lyndon Johnson to study the causes of these "civil disorders" later cited this disconnect as one piece of the underlying problem. Blacks, twice as likely at the time to be unemployed as whites, had been systematically shut out from good public-sector jobs. And their exclusion from the most visible civil servant ranks of all – on urban police forces – made the tension between the powerful and the powerless in cities like Chicago and Detroit all the worse.
Two generations later, historic census data suggest that major metropolitan police forces now reflect the black populations embedded in the communities they serve. But across the entire spectrum of municipal jobs – including janitors, secretaries, lawyers, school teachers, fire fighters and detectives – the story is decidedly more mixed.
Todd Gardner, a survey statistician with the Census Bureau's Center for Economic Studies, has built with the Urban Institute a fascinating database dating back to 1960 that compares who held (and still holds) local government jobs with the racial makeup of the general population in America's 100 largest metros. The tool is built on census data that's not publicly available.