The Elves are also known as the fallen race. Once upon an ancient time they had magnificent kingdoms dotted around Athas, before the coming of the Desert Age. They lived for centuries and were masters of history, lore, all types of craftsmanship and even Preservation magic.
Now Elves are considered a lower race, barely outliving humans (more from hardship than natural causes). Their kingdoms fell long ago, and all their history and cultural prowess fell with them.
Now they are nomads by tradition, wandering the desert and trading for water and food, as well having small herds of animals.
But as defiling magic corrupts more territory, and resources become scarce, more Elves are migrating to the cities taking to professions of low repute such as pawn and trinket shops, prostitution and thieving. Because of this, they are looked down upon, and any Elf that finds a respectable position in society is accused of “taking local jobs”.