Commentary Magazine

Quotas and Jobs

To the Editor:

Since the mid-60′s I have worked in civil-rights groups attempting to integrate employment in a range of blue- and white-collar occupations in metropolitan Baltimore. That experience, which formed the basis for recent testimony before the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, leads me to question Elliott Abrams’s theorizing on the subject of proportional representation in employment [“The Quota Commission,” October 1972].

In bisecting the work force into an all-white segment and a segment in which blacks are under-represented in relation to their percentage of the population, Mr. Abrams glosses over the reality of black underrepresentation in desirable occupations. In the first place, he ignores the fact that black workers constitute a pathetically small percentage of employees in the desirable occupations, rarely even approaching their representation in the work force. Secondly, he fails to recognize the wide variations among employers in the degree to which they employ blacks in specific occupations. These variations are evident in all parts of the country, among industries, among companies within a particular industry, and in public as opposed to private employment. Although many factors could be cited as contributing to the variations . . . it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in the many firms with comparatively low utilization of black workers the racial factor is responsible. By the racial factor, I mean the combination of employers’ past racial discrimination and their current hostility or indifference to the employment or advancement of Negro workers.

How have equal-employment commissions operated within these realities? In a metropolitan area with, say, a 25-per-cent black labor force, the commission cannot help but note the vast difference between an employer who employs black people at a 3-per-cent-rate in a specific occupation, and one who employs them at a 15-per-cent rate. Neither demonstrates proportional representation, but the employer at the 3-per-cent rate has been and should be singled out for scrutiny by the anti-discrimination agency. If, as is typical, the employer totally excluded black people from that occupation until the early 60′s, how does the agency assure itself of the fact that equal opportunity now exists? The most practical approach is to require that the 3-percent employer undertake affirmative actions (probably already accomplished by the 15-per-cent employer), including those which Mr. Abrams states are required by law—active minority recruitment, widespread advertising, and the establishment of training programs in minority communities. As in all serious business efforts, goals and timetables are established for the employer as standards against which his progress may be measured at intervals. If a company is willing to commit the necessary resources, it is usually able to progress toward the goals at a rate sufficient to satisfy the rather low expectations of the equal-opportunity agency. Rarely is the goal of proportional representation set; rarely is it attained; and rarely, if ever, is a company penalized for failure to attain any goal, no matter how low. The fear of widespread implementation of proportional representation may eventually prove justified, but in the foreseeable future it is groundless.

The discussion of employee qualifications, like that of proportional representation, can benefit from a broader factual context than Mr. Abrams provides, or than this letter can include. Without attempting to cover that subject, I would like to comment briefly on Mr. Abrams’s presentation of it. He concludes in several cases that EEOC rulings have prevented employers from considering the job-related qualifications of black workers, but all except one of his conclusions cannot be addressed because the EEOC-endorsed criteria are not given. In the one case in which the criteria are set down, the EEOC requires that, instead of rejecting an applicant solely because he has been convicted of a crime, an employer consider such details as the time, nature, and number of convictions, and the employee’s immediate past employment record. Far from evidencing a lack of concern for qualifications, these criteria demonstrate an understanding of the relation of past behavior to future performance—and they are in the best humane tradition of rehabilitating ex-convicts who have genuine rehabilitation potential.

Irwin Auerbach
Baltimore, Maryland



To the Editor:

Elliott Abrams is very far from comprehending the full extent of the new ideology that all levels of government are endeavoring to enforce. . . . For example, here in California, state offices have an unofficial “Karma” table which allots to each misfortune in life a value in points which “may” (=must) be used to offset poor performance on civil-service examination. Blackness has the highest value, closely followed by Chicano-ness. But . . . confinement in a mental institution is almost as good as blackness, as is conviction for a felony. Then comes illegitimacy of birth, failure in school or expulsion, etc., etc.

Conversely, one may lose points for a good record in school, and a higher college degree is considered the worst sort of disqualification. . . .

Alex Berig
Berkeley, California



Elliott Abrams writes:

Alex Berig’s letter is most instructive, but I am sure that the California officials he refers to would deny his charges. Undoubtedly they would claim they never pay the slightest attention to Karma unless it is directly job-related.

Irwin Auerbach presents the EEOC position ably, but I remain unpersuaded by it. He argues that great underrepresentation of minorities in a company’s work force should subject it to scrutiny, and I agree. We part company, however, when Mr. Auerbach suggests that equal-opportunity agencies usually have low expectations, rarely set proportional representation as a goal, and rarely penalize employers for failing to achieve this goal.

I quite agree that the rehabilitation of ex-convicts is a worthy aim. The question, however, is not whether hiring ex-convicts is in “the best humane tradition,” but whether it is required by law. It is one thing for Mr. Auerbach or the EEOC to call the practice enlightened, but it is quite another to insist that it is mandated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.



Professor Thomas Sowell of UCLA, currently on leave at The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., has given us permission to publish his letter to Professor Frank C. Pierson of Swarthmore College as part of our continuing discussion of affirmative action in the universities [“HEW & the Universities,” by Paul Seabury, February 1972; Letters from Readers, May, June, July, and December 1972].—Ed .



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