George Floyd, she adds, was a restaurant worker — a security guard at a Minneapolis restaurant and nightclub — and had lost his job in the pandemic.

In the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, black workers before the pandemic staffed stores where they couldn’t afford to shop and served meals in restaurants where their wages wouldn’t cover dinner. Now protest is happening there, too.

“I’m not particularly surprised that protesters went straight to the Apple Store and Gucci and Prada and the Lenox Mall — that’s deliberate,” said George Chidi, a longtime writer in Atlanta who has also worked on homelessness there. “What it says is if you’re walking around tomorrow with a Fendi bag, who is to say if you bought it or stole it?”

It makes it hard to tell who is the diner and who is the server.

“People are trying very hard to avoid the word ‘serf,’ but that’s kind of where we are right now,” Mr. Chidi said of the modern urban economy. “Honestly, we’ve created a class to exploit.”

Booming Atlanta relies on hotel clerks, nannies, gardeners, house cleaners, car washers, Uber drivers, janitors who clean fancy gyms and couriers who deliver from trendy restaurants. Jobs like these are what tend to be available now to workers without a college degree who 50 years ago could have found middle-class work in factories and offices.

As that work has declined, the economist David Autor says, the economic promise of cities for the poor has dwindled, too. He uses the term “wealth work” for a new subset of service jobs like the baristas who make $7 lattes or the trainers who work in gyms — meaning not that they offer the workers who do them wealth, but that they exist because of the wealth of others.

“There’s a lot of people who are there to serve the comfort and convenience and care of affluent individuals,” Mr. Autor said.

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