The Benefits of Affirmative Action
Affirmative action has helped the income, promotion and labor force participation rates of both women and minorities. For example, between 1982 and 1995, the percentage of female managers and professionals in the U.S. rose from 40.5 to 48.0 percent; blacks from 5.5 to 7.5 percent, and Hispanics from 5.2 to 7.6 percent. By comparison, these groups form 51.2 percent, 12.6 percent, and 10.2 percent of the population, respectively. Progress has been steady, but still incomplete.
Many critics of affirmative action believe it has failed to achieve its stated goal of equal employment opportunity. A few even believe that it has done more harm than good. A review of the statistics, however, shows that both minorities and women have made substantial progress towards equality in the last several decades.
Before reviewing the relevant statistics, it would be helpful to build a timeline of important dates in affirmative action history.
An affirmative action timeline
In 1961, John F. Kennedy signed an executive order that intended the end of discrimination in federal contracting. "The Contractor will take affirmative action, to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin." (1) The act did not mandate quotas, only discrimination-free employment practices.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 broadened this policy. Title IV declared that "No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The subject of first quotas arose in 1965, when President Johnson gave the commencement address at Harvard University:
"You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you're free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates…"
Not long afterwards, Johnson signed an order "to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program…" (2) In 1967, this order was expanded to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.
In 1971, the Department of Labor under Richard Nixon issued an order requiring all federal contractors to develop "an acceptable affirmative action program," including "an analysis of areas within which the contractor is deficient in the utilization of minority groups and women, and further, goals and timetables to which the contractor's good faith efforts must be directed to correct the deficiencies." (3) By now, affirmative action goals had become the full-fledged policy of U.S....