Friday, June 27, 2008

Article of the Day

Caitlin Knowles Myers, A Cure for Discrimination? Affirmative Action and the Case of California's Proposition 209, 60 Ind. & Lab. Rel. Rev. 379 (April 2007)
[B]etween 1995 and 1999 the relative employment of minorities fell by 2.8 percentage points while non-participation rose by 2.9 percentage points. Similarly, between 1995 and 2000 relative employment fell by 1.8 percentage points and non-participation rose by 2.2 percentage points, and between 1995 and 2001 relative employment fell by 2.2 percentage points while non-participation rose by 2.0 percentage points. Breaking this down by group, between 1995 and 1999, the percentage point rise in relative non-participation was 2.9 for [*389] white women, 4.6 for black women, 5.2 for Hispanic women, and 6.8 for other men. This increase in non-participation accounts for nearly all of the decline in employment for all groups except black women, who also saw a drop in unemployment. Black and Hispanic men and "other" women do not exhibit statistically significant changes in labor force status between 1995 and 1999. The general trend continues through 2001, at which point there appears to have been a rise in non-participation for all minority groups save for "other" women, for whom the point estimates are similar to other groups but not significant, and black men, for whom non-participation fell. That there is little evidence of a negative impact on black men is in keeping with previous findings (for example, Holzer and Neumark 2000b) that in later years affirmative action had a greater impact on women, but it should also be noted that black men comprise the smallest of the six minority groups in the sample.


As a whole, the results suggest that the impact of Proposition 209 was to move women and minorities from employment to out of the labor force. If, as the results indicate, the removal of affirmative action made it more difficult for women and minorities to find work, then this exit from the labor force is not surprising.” (388-90)

Interesting data. I do think, though, that the author is a bit too bold with her conclusions. She claims that her findings show one of the following: that a) affirmative action programs are inefficient, b) affirmative action is efficient but ineffective in fostering long-term changes in prejudicial attitudes, c) the sources of inequality are not based on prejudice, or d) that California had not had AA long enough for the long-term change in attitudes to take place.(395) And her rhetoric definitely seems to point towards her preference for hypothesis "c" or especially "a" (she is an economist after all).

For my part, I think a few other possibilities exist: that e) affirmative action is necessary but not sufficient to remedy prejudicial attitudes, or f) that bans on affirmative action prevent employers from considering some positive qualities possessed by potential employees of colors, making the system less efficient and structurally prejudicial. The last one is my preferred argument -- and intriguingly, it actually matches up with classical economics rather well, as those theorists would generally hold that regulating what type of information the market "can't notice" creates inefficiencies.

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