Home » » The Representational Consequences of Municipal Civil Service Reform
A prominent argument holds that the chief purpose of municipal civil service reform in the United States was to dislodge the overrepresentation of recent immigrants in city government. Using new data on all municipal employees from 1850 to 1940 and employing three research designs, we detect no evidence that the share of local government jobs held by foreign-born whites decreased following the introduction of reforms. Instead, we show that foreign-born whites—Irish immigrants in particular—experienced substantial gains in local government employment, concentrated in blue-collar occupations in small- and medium-sized municipalities. Our results call for a revisionist interpretation of Progressive Era reforms by questioning generalizations drawn from the experience of the largest cities in the United States. For most municipalities, instead, civil service reform in fact opened avenues to representation for members of foreign-born constituencies who had previously been locked out of government jobs.