May 1995

The Affirmative Action Experiment Has Been A Colossal Failure


by Peter Kirsanow

Affirmative action in its current form is racist, demeaning and repugnant to the most fundamental tenets of democracy. But saying so does not win the debate.

Since its proponents insist that current affirmative action programs are indispensable to bringing Blacks on a par with Whites, that without it income and occupational disparities will persist, then let's examine the evidence of that claim. Exactly what have 30 years of affirmative action accomplished, i.e., does it, in fact, work? Have billions of dollars and thousands of regulations brought Blacks, as Lyndon Johnson put it, to the same starting line as Whites?

There can be no denying that Blacks have made impressive gains over the last 30 years. Nearly twice as many Black families are considered middle class today as compared to 30 years ago. The number of Black corporate managers has risen over 50%. The ranks of Black professionals have increased more than 75%.

But contrary to the claims of its champions, these improvements are not perforce the result of affirmative action. Indeed, as noted by Farrell Bloch, author of Anti-Discriminatory Law and Minority Employment, 30 years of affirmative action has done virtually nothing to improve Black employment and advancement prospects. Bloch observes that the chief effect of affirmative action has been to transfer Black workers from small and medium sized companies to larger employers and federal contractors. As Thomas Sowell noted in Preferential Policies, if anyone has been helped by affirmative action, then it has been the Black elite and those positioned to advance regardless of quotas.

Considerable evidence is building that Black economic advancement in the last three decades is substantially attributable to equal employment opportunity legislation, improvements in mobility and technology and the emergence of a global economy. It is much more difficult, for example, for today's employer from say, Indiana, to discriminate on the basis of race when he has to compete for the best available employees against an equal opportunity employer in Maine, or for that matter, Malaysia.

Moreover, the advancements noted above are somewhat illusory. While there have been impressive Black gains since the Sixties, perhaps more stunning is the fact that despite the billions spent on affirmative action, there has also been significant Black regression.

And the sums expended on affirmative action and its attendant programs, policies and regulations have been prodigious: Just the annual administrative compliance costs for the nation's employers have been estimated at 5 billion dollars. The staffing and budget levels for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and the local Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) agencies have mushroomed over the years. The number of charges filed with the EEOC has increased 50% in just the last 5 years. Further, Executive Order 11248 effectively requires government contractors and subcontractors to reserve a percentage of slots solely for minorities. Compliance therewith is monitored by the OFCCP. Seventy-two percent of Fortune 500 companies use affirmative action or quotas in hiring. Federal, state and local governments let contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars only to minorities. Billions of dollars are spent annually on training minority workers and creating job opportunities for them.

The Center for Study of American Business at Washington University has placed the cost of affirmative action and race norming to the national economy at $236 billion dollars. That's more than $25,000 a year for each Black family of four.

So what has this protracted affirmative action effort wrought? Black unemployment today is twice that of Whites -- virtually identical to the difference 30 years ago. Median Black family income in 1971 was 61% of that for White families. Today it is only 54% of White family income.

In 1975, the earnings of Black males were 74.3% of that of White males. Today Black men earn 74% as much as White men.

In 1970, 77% of Black men were working or actively seeking work. Today the figure is 68%.

Although Blacks constitute nearly 13 % of the country's population, Blacks make up only 4% of doctors, 3.7% of engineers, 3.3% of lawyers, 3.6% of natural scientists and 1.4% of architects.

So the lesson for the conservative polemicist is clear: forget your arguments about legalities and ethics. Discard quaint platitudes about justice and equity. They are impotent against grievance bureaucrats who have a vested interest in quotas and will therefore implacably insist that affirmative action is the salvation of Black Americans.

Instead, be pragmatic. Simply state that that dog won't hunt. By their own terms, the 30 year multi-billion dollar affirmative action experiment has been a colossal failure.

And then tell them about a program for Black advancement with an astonishing success rate. One proven to increase Black employment prospects by more than 40%. One proven to reduce Black poverty rates by 50%. One proven to cut the Black high school drop out rate by half. One proven to reduce crime by 60%. In short, a program that works -- spectacularly.

It's called the two-parent family. In fact, controlling for all other variables, the two-parent family virtually eliminates all socio-economic differences between Blacks and Whites. Affirmative action for families, anyone?

Peter Kirsanow is a member of the national Advisory Committee of the African-American leadership group Project 21 and is Labor Counsel for Leaseway Transportation Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio.


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