Abandoning Affirmative Action

By Staff

Vol. 7, No. 3, 1985, pp. 1-2

The Reagan Administration stands on the verge of severely weakening affirmative action rules for federal contractors. As it is now drafted, a proposed Presidential Order eliminates existing requirements that deficient federal contractors set attainable goals and timetables for the employment of minorities and women in proportion to the number of available and qualified workers in a particular labor market. The draft order also forbids the Labor Department to statistically monitor contractors' compliance with the goal of non-discrimination.

"Existing affirmative action programs need only two changes," says Southern Regional Council interim director Ken Johnson, "stronger enforcement and presidential support."

"In many Southern counties, white income is four, even five, times higher than black income," Johnson continues. "Neither Sunbelt Boom nor economic recovery has altered that fact. We desperately need new and creative programs to increase minority economic opportunity and reverse the effects of past discrimination, not scrapping of policies which have proven demonstrably effective in eliminating discrimination in the Southern workplace. We must not halt the equal employment progress of the 1970s."

Federal affirmative action programs affecting tens of thousands of government contractors have been tested and improved since the late 1960s. The strongest, most effective section of existing federal rules, which is the use of statistical goals, timetables, and measurement of results, was actually put in place during the Nixon Administration in a 1971 regulation usually called 'Revised Order 4.' Efforts made during four Presidencies to eliminate economic inequities felt by minorities and women have at last begun to bring visible results. The existing requirement that federal contractors statistically measure the makeup of their workforce does not impose quotas at all, as affirmative action opponents have often charged. Indeed, under Revised Order Number 4 "goals may not be rigid and inflexible quotas which must be met, but must be targets reasonably

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attainable by means of applying every good faith effort."

To support the conclusion that existing affirmative action rules for federal contractors have been successful, the Southern Regional Council has analyzed statistics on black occupational representation in five Deep South states.

The Council finds that both in the South, where the harshest racial inequities remain, and nationally, significant numbers of blacks are beginning to move upward from low wage, low status jobs into traditionally white male, higher status jobs. The total number of jobs held by blacks has expanded, outpacing black population growth.

In the state of Georgia, for example, from essentially "zero" beginnings in 1961, blacks in private businesses or industries employing one hundred or more persons, or employed by federal contractors with more than fifty employees accounted, by 1981, for 7.5 % of all officials/managers, 7.4 % of professionals, 15.7 %o of technicians, 14.6 % of sales workers, 18.8 % of office/clerical workers, and 17.6 % of craft workers.

Drawing upon data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the SRC's analysis shows that in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina black representation has increased from 1973 to 1981 in the higher status and traditionally white occupations, while blacks as a percent of all laborers and service workers declined. The five state representation of blacks among all officials/administrators stood at 2.8 % in 1973, but had risen to 6.6 % by 1981. The greatest gains--both in the South and nationally--were made following issuance of Revised Order 4 in 1971, with its requirements of goals and timetables for contractors whose work forces gave evidence of discrimination.

The results of several other recent studies demonstrate national progress in advancement of minorities and women under affirmative action policies. A 1984 study by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, covering over 77,000 establishments employing a total of 20.8 million workers, found that in 1974 non-contractors employed somewhat higher proportions of minorities than contractors in six of nine job categories. By 1980, contractors--operating under the more stringent affirmative action requirements of the '70s--had surpassed or almost caught up with non-contractors in minority participation rates in six of the nine job categories used in job force analysis.

The Leonard Report, a study partially funded by the Labor Department and released in 1984, concluded that "while the targeting of enforcement could be improved, and while the impact of affirmative action on other groups is unclear, the evidence in this study is that affirmative action and Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) have been successful in prompting the integration of blacks into the American workplace."

If Reagan Administration officials such as William Bradford Reynolds and Edwin Meese have their way, the President will soon sign the draft executive order that undercuts affirmative action for federal contractors, setting his hand to yet one more action in the continuing effort to push back twenty years of civil rights gains.