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The Federal Attack on Labor Market Discrimination: The Mouse that Roared?


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  • Charles Brown


The purpose of this paper is to review available evidence on the impact of federal equal employment opportunity programs. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 11246 have been in effect for over 15 years, the lag in data collection and evaluation means that little can be said regarding the last few years' experience. In particular, evidence on the impact of recent administrative changes in the agencies responsible for enforcement is unavailable. In general, time series studies find significant improvements in the relative labor market position of blacks compared with whites since 1965. While several arguments have been advanced that these gains are illusory, the most plausible interpretation is that much of the apparent progress is real. Cross-sectional studies of the impacts of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (which enforces the nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements of the Executive Order) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which enforces Title VII) have been much less conclusive. Half of the major studies of the OFCCP find that the program had the intended effects on the relative position of blacks -- or at least black males. Unfortunately, variations in conclusions among studies are not readily explained, even after a careful look at the competing data and methods. Equally disturbing is the inability of studies producing positive results to associate such impacts with the "levers" by which OFCCP might exert influence. Studies of EEOC impacts are more vulnerable to problems of identifying the appropriate control group, since Title VII covers contractor and noncontractor firms. Apart from evidence that relative black employment grew considerably faster in firms which must report to EEOC (firms with over 15 employees are subject to Title VII, but only those with 100 or more must report to EEOC), available studies have not produced consistent evidence of EEOC impact. Besides the lack of strong cross-sectional support for the time series conclusions, three puzzles emerge: (1) What caused the decline in black male labor force participation which began about the same time as the federal antidiscrimination effort? (2) Why did black females advance more rapidly than black males since the federal effort began? (3) Why did advantaged blacks advance more rapidly than less advantaged blacks?

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0669.

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Date of creation: May 1981
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Brown, Charles. "The Federal Attack on Labor Market Discrimination: The Mouse that Roared?" Research in Labor Economics, Vol. 5 (1982), pp. 33-68.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0669

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  1. Anderson, Bernard E & Wallace, Phyllis A, 1975. "Public Policy and Black Economic Progress: A Review of the Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(2), pages 47-52, May.
  2. Lazear, Edward, 1979. "The Narrowing of Black-White Wage Differentials Is Illusory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(4), pages 553-64, September.
  3. Orley Ashenfelter & James Heckman, 1974. "Measuring the Effect of an Antidiscrimination Program," Working Papers 432, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. James J. Heckman & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1976. "Does the contract compliance program work? An analysis of Chicago data," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 29(4), pages 544-564, July.
  5. Richard Butler & James J. Heckman, 1977. "The Government's Impact on the Labor Market Status of Black Americans: A Critical Review," NBER Working Papers 0183, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Gregory J. Ahart, 1976. "A process evaluation of the contract compliance program in nonconstruction industry," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 29(4), pages 565-571, July.
  7. Smith, James P, 1978. "The Improving Economic Status of Black Americans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 171-78, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Kenneth A. Couch & Mary C. Daly, 2004. "The Improving Relative Status of Black Men," Working papers 2004-12, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  2. Jonathan S. Leonard, 1985. "The Effectiveness of Equal Employment Law and Affirmative Action Regulation," NBER Working Papers 1745, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. John J. Donohue III & James Heckman, 1991. "Continuous Versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," NBER Working Papers 3894, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Michael Bruno, 1983. "Petrodollars and the Differential Growth Performance of Industrial and Middle-Income Countries in the 1970s," NBER Working Papers 1056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Amitabh Chandra, 2003. "Is the Convergence of the Racial Wage Gap Illusory?," NBER Working Papers 9476, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment," NBER Working Papers 3713, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Jonathan S. Leonard, 1983. "Anti-Discrimination or Reverse Discrimination: The Impact of Changing Demographics, Title VII and Affirmative Action on Productivity," NBER Working Papers 1240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. David Neumark & Wendy A. Stock, 2001. "The Effects of Race and Sex Discrimination Laws," NBER Working Papers 8215, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Richard B. Freeman, 1982. "Public Policy and Employment Discrimination in the U.S," NBER Working Papers 0928, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.


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