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A Cure for Discrimination? Affirmative Action and the Case of California's Proposition 209

  • Caitlin Knowles Myers

An important claim made for affirmative action programs has been that they need not be permanent: they can be discontinued, the argument runs, once they have transformed employers' attitudes. Proposition 209, enacted in California in 1996 and made effective the following year, represents a natural experiment testing that claim. It ended long-standing state affirmative action programs not only in education, but also in public employment and government contracting. The author uses Current Population Survey data to gauge the labor market effects of this dramatic policy change. The key finding is that employment among women and minorities dropped sharply, almost wholly because of a decline in labor force participation rather than an increase in unemployment. This finding, the author argues, suggests that affirmative action programs in California either had been inefficient-that is, resulted in sub-optimal employee-employer matches-or had failed to create lasting change in employers' prejudicial attitudes.

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Article provided by ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School in its journal ILR Review.

Volume (Year): 60 (2007)
Issue (Month): 3 (April)
Pages: 379-396

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Handle: RePEc:ilr:articl:v:60:y:2007:i:3:p:379-396
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  1. Coate, S. & Loury, G.C., 1992. "Will Affirmative Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?," Papers 3, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  2. Christopher Avery & Susan Athey & Peter Zemsky, 2000. "Mentoring and Diversity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 765-786, 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. Morris Goldstein & Robert S. Smith, 1976. "The estimated impact of the antidiscrimination program aimed at federal contractors," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 29(4), pages 523-543, July.
  5. Gruber, Jonathan, 1994. "The Incidence of Mandated Maternity Benefits," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 622-41, June.
  6. H. Holzer & D. Neumark, . "Are affirmative action hires less qualified? Evidence from employer-employee data on new hires," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1113-96, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  7. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
  8. Mincer, Jacob, 1976. "Unemployment Effects of Minimum Wages," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages S87-104, August.
  9. Smith, James P & Welch, Finis, 1984. "Affirmative Action and Labor Markets," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(2), pages 269-301, April.
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