The consequences of major changes in employment, due to the decline of manufacturing and the growth of the service sector, have not been well-documented, nor theorized, in the sociology of ethnic relations, even in recent studies. For example, Blumer's classic argument that economic development adapts to ‘race relations’, rather than the reverse as predicted by the modernization school, has not been either empirically resolved or conceptually applied to the UK. By adapting data from the Labour Force Survey and the Census, the paper begins to fill this gap with a detailed account of three main minority ethnic groups, and a separate analysis of male and female employment. It is demonstrated that, contrary to assumptions that members of the minority ethnic groups suffered most from de-industrialization, they actually did rather well, and in some cases did better than the majority population. These findings are re-conceptualized as collective social mobility, as part of a review of a number of conceptual frameworks in the light of the data.