Caeser A. Arredondo
Arredondo & Co.
New York Civil Rights Coalition
Professor of Political Science,
American Federation of Teachers
Professor of English
San Jose State University
School of Education
Ron K. Unx
Wall Street Analytics
I am Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal
Opportunity, a non-profit research and education project
specializing in issues related to race, ethnicity, and
assimilation. It is a privilege to be with you this
afternoon to testify on affirmative action, an issue of
profound importance in the current national policy debate on
the role of government and one I have been involved with for
much of my 25-year professional career. As you know, I was
staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during
the Reagan Administration. I have also taught in affirmative
action programs at the University of Colorado and UCLA from
1969- 1972, and was a member of the professional staff of
this Subcommittee from 1972-1974. I have written extensively
on civil rights issues in both professional journals and the
popular press and am the author of a book on Hispanics in
the United States, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics
of Hispanic Assimilation (Basic Books 1991).
So that there be no misunderstanding on this point, let me say that I support equal opportunity without regard to race, national origin, sex, or religion, and the vigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination laws . The civil rights laws passed in the 1960s to guarantee equal opportunity in employment, education, voting, and housing have made ours a more just and fair society. By overwhelming majorities, Americans support equal opportunity and equality before the law. I Most Americans support the original idea behind affirmative action as well, that is: 1) recruiting qualified minorities and women to compete for jobs, promotions, and school admission; and 2) providing those who lack the necessary skills and training the opportunity to obtain them.
But affirmative action today has strayed from its original intent and has become largely a program to confer special benefits on designated groups. The objective is no longer to guarantee equal opportunity but to achieve equal results. The focus is no longer on individuals but groups. And the end justifies whatever means are necessary, including the use of double standards based on race, ethnicity, and gender. What is more, many of the beneficiaries of affirmative action programs today are middle class or even affluent members of preferred racial and ethnic groups. There are now affirmative action programs for minority and female owners of banks and multi-million dollar contracting firms, as well as minority and female graduates of Ivy League universities and professional schools. The recipients may even be second-generation beneficiaries-- the children of parents who were themselves "affirmative action babies," to use Yale Law professor Stephen Carter's designation.
So far from being "disadvantaged" are some of the recipients that the federal government has had to resort to "Newspeak" in defining who is disadvantaged: "Individuals who certify that they are members of named groups (Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans, Subcontinent-Asian Americans) are to be considered socially and economically disadvantaged ....'(2) In other words, no matter how wealthy, or well-educated, or successful an individual black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian is, he or she will be defined by the federal government as socially and economically disadvantaged. It is hard to imagine a more patronizing policy than this one, which takes into account not individual accomplishments but group membership.
What effect this de facto designation of all blacks, Hispanics, and others as disadvantaged persons has in the actual operation of affirmative action programs is vitally important in understanding why there is such broad distrust and dislike for affirmative action. Support for affirmative action over the years came largely because most Americans were willing to compensate actual victims of~ discrimination and to help individuals who were socially or economically disadvantaged because of past discrimination. However, it far less clear today that affirmative action programs are targeted at either of these groups. I say it is far less clear, because, in fact, it is difficult to know exactly how most affirmative action programs work. We have precious little information on the characteristics of affirmative action beneficiaries, and less information than we need on what selection criteria affirmative action programs use.
For example, the perception is widespread that blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities, and sometimes women, are held to less rigorous standards than whites (and sometimes Asians) in competing for college and professional school admissions, jobs, and promotions. Certainly, there is abundant reason why so many people believe this is true. The infamous history of "race-norming" job aptitude tests by the U.S. Employment Service at the Department of Labor(which, by the way, went on under Republican presidents) is a case in point. Until the decade-old practice was outlawed in 1991, more than 3 million persons a year were placed in jobs as a result of Employment Service exams that were race-normed; that is, which were graded so that black and Hispanics received higher ratings than their actual test scores justified.3 Even without race-norming of tests, however, employers and schools often apply racial double standards, which may involve pooling candidates for admission or jobs according to their racial or ethnic background and selecting "the most qualified" from each separate pool. Obtaining accurate information about such practices is often difficult, however.
Among the most closely guarded programs are those that operate in universities, especially with respect to admissions policies. Many schools play a shocking charade of maintaining that they do not lower admissions standards for minority students, while preventing any access to the information that could prove them wrong. In a departure from the usual practice, however, the University of California at Berkeley published information in 1991 that offers a revealing look at the profile of minority students on that campus. As part of a study of "diversity" on campus, the report notes that the median annual parental income of black students was $35,000 in 1989, and $32,000 for so-called Chicano students-- or about the national average that year for all white households in the U.S. ($32,476).5 Perhaps more significantly, 14% of black and 17% of Chicano students came from families which earned more than $75,000 a year. Yet, the criteria under which these middle-class and affluent students were admitted differed significantly from that which applied to both white and Asian students (who were also middle class and affluent). The median high school GPAs of minority freshmen (3.4) were one-half point below that of whites and Asians (4.0). The report is silent on the subject of SAT score differences, although other studies show differences as great as 300 points or more between median white and Asian scores and those of blacks and Hispanics admitted to the university.
Many of these Berkeley students admit that they have not faced discrimination in their lives, having attended integrated, suburban schools-- but others 'discover' their victim status once they arrive on campus. As one Mexican American student summed it up, "I thought racism didn't exist and here, you know, it just comes to light.'~ Many students also noted the pressure to self-segregate that predominated on campus. Most of the black students on campus had attended predominantly white high schools before coming to Berkeley; ironically, these were the students who had the most difficulty adjusting socially to their new environment, according to the report. As one such student put it: "I never saw a colored world until I got here and people started stressing the importance of color."7 According to the report, "These students experience a new kind of pressure: it comes from other African Americans students on campus, and it is experienced as pressure to make decisions about friends, social networks, even who you sit with at lunch, on the basis of race.'8 This preoccupation with race extended beyond students in the affirmative action program to whites and Asians. The study reports that for Asian students: "After being around Cal for two or three years, students who were integrated into predominantly white worlds of friendship and association in high school report a shift towards having predominantly Asian American friends, roommates, or affiliations with an Asian American organization."9
In fact, increased racial tensions on campus are often the result of preferential policies for minority students, which the Berkeley study acknowledges. At a time when racial attitudes among the general population have improved, many campuses have become balkanized by racial and ethnic conflicts. Indeed, antipathy for affirmative action may play a significant role in polarizing attitudes between whites and blacks in other areas, as well, according to research by Stanford professor Paul M. Snider man and Berkeley professor Thomas Piazza.'ø Using a sophisticated survey technique, Snider man and Piazza demonstrated that whites were far more likely to view blacks negatively if they were first asked a question regarding affirmative action. The mere mention of affirmative action was enough to elicit increased disapproval of blacks on questions having to do with personal responsibility, for example. Say the authors: "Certainly some whites dislike affirmative action because they dislike blacks, but it is unfortunately also true that a number of whites dislike the idea of affirmative action so much and perceive it to be so unfair that they have come to dislike blacks as a consequence. Hence the special irony of the contemporary politics of race. In the very effort to make things better, we have made some things worse.''l~ As Snider man and Piazza go on to explain: "Affirmative Action- defined to mean preferential treatment-- has become the chief item on the race conscious agenda. It produces resentment and disaffection not because it assists blacks-- substantial numbers of whites [ a higher percentage of self-described conservatives than liberals, according to the data in the study] are prepared to support a range of policies to see blacks better off-- but because it is judged to be unfair."'2 Of course reaction to affirmative action is not the only-- or the chief-cause of prejudice and discrimination, but it can exacerbate those phenomena. The more unfair affirmative action programs are perceived to be, the greater the likelihood that they will increase racial tensions.
Supporters of affirmative action are constantly telling us that these programs benefit poor and disadvantaged minorities and make up for past discrimination. They also claim the such programs do not lead to lower standards or to the application of dual standards based on race. But these are at least partially empirical matters and can be tested to prove if they are right or wrong-- if only we had access to the information in a comprehensive and systematic way. We know, for example, that business set-aside programs apply different and preferential standards based on race and gender in awarding government contracts. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in March 1985 (while I was staff director) held hearings in Washington, DC, on set-asides, which documented practices among federal contractors. Speaking of one the best known programs, the Small Business Administration's 8(a) set-aside, Wayne State University economist Timothy Bates noted: "Participants have rarely 'graduated' from the 8(a) program and become self-sufficient entities. The most successful minority businesses in the 8(a) program are run by individuals who are not particularly disadvantaged; the truly disadvantaged entrepreneurs who receive assistance, in contrast, fail in droves (13). I commend to the Committee the entire two-volume set of these hearings, which I believe remain the most comprehensive on this issue to date.
One of the most useful things Congress could do in this debate on affirmative action is to collect data. The General Accounting Office, for example, could conduct a study of affirmative action in higher education which could help settle the question whether minority students are being admitted to colleges and universities with lower achievement test scores and GPAs. Schools already collect data on the race, ethnicity, and gender of all students and could report information on the median and range of SAT or other achievement test scores, for example, of students admitted by group. Such a study could also provide information on the social and economic characteristics of affirmative action program beneficiaries. It would be interesting to see whether Berkeley's substantially middle-class affirmative action recipients are typical of students in such programs nationwide. How many of such students come from families in which one or both parents are college-educated? How many of these parents also participated in affirmative action programs? Answers to these questions are crucial to determining whether affirmative action programs truly benefit disadvantaged blacks, Hispanics, and others or whether they have become perquisites of a growing elite among these groups.
Before closing, I'd like to say just a few words about two other subjects related to affirmative action, gender-based discrimination and discrimination against Hispanics. Although some public opinion polls show a larger percentage of Americans favor affirmative action programs for women than for blacks and other minorities, I think it would be terrible mistake to treat gender-based programs any differently than those based on race or ethnicity. They should be subject to the same intensive scrutiny and criticisms. And indeed, I would argue that there is even less justification for maintaining such programs than there is for race- or ethnic-based programs.
Women now outnumber men among college freshmen (55% to 45% in 1993), at four-year colleges and among graduate students as well. What is more, women are far more likely to earn degrees in nontraditional fields including nearly one third of master's degrees in computer and information sciences, 14 % of master's in engineering, 41 % in mathematics, and 43 of law degrees and 36% of medical degrees.'4 Even the much-vaunted "earnings gap" between men and women has closed significantly in recent years, and is virtually non-existent when men and women's wages in many occupations are compared. According to a 1993 report from the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor, women mechanics earn 105% of the median weekly earnings of male mechanics, female registered nurses earn 105% of the median weekly earnings of comparable male nurses, female pharmacists earns 90% of the median weekly earnings of male pharmacists, female postal workers earn 97% of the median weekly earnings of male postal workers, etc.'5 Nor do most analyses that point to wage differentials between men and women take into account differences in hours worked and years of uninterrupted work experience between the sexes, which often depress female earnings since women work, on average, fewer hours per week than men and have more interruptions over the course of their working lives than do males.
With respect to Hispanics, much of the official published data on the social, economic, and educational status of Hispanics is confused and misleading because it fails to take into account the tremendous impact immigration has on the Hispanic population. Simply reciting statistics from one decade to the next on the earnings, education levels, and other social indicators with respect to the aggregate Hispanic population tells almost nothing about whether progress has actually taken place. I have written an entire book on this subject, which demonstrates that the U.S.-born Mexican American population, for example, more closely resembles the non-Hispanic white population in the U.S. in education and earnings than it does the Mexican immigrant population. About half of all adults of Mexican origin living in the U.S. today are foreign born-- a dramatic increase in that population over the last thirty years. In 1970, for example, four-fifths of the Mexican-origin population was U.S. born. Mexican immigrants-- like past immigrants from most nations-- start off life in the U.S. on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. But there is substantial evidence to suggest that their fortunes will increase the longer they are here. Past studies show Mexican immigrants closing the earnings gap with their native-born peers in about 20 years, although some economists predict this may be more difficult in the future.'6 Nonetheless, it is important-- indeed essential-- to take nativity into account in assessing what role past discrimination plays in the earnings differentials between Hispanics and non-Hispanics.
My own work, which was based on a sample of 1,889 Mexican-origin men age 25-65 from Current Population Survey data for 1986 and 1988, showed that the unadjusted average weekly earnings of Mexican American men were 83% of those of non-Hispanic white men. After adjusting for the effects of schooling, experience, hours worked, and geographical region of residence, the adjusted average weekly earnings of Mexican American men rose to 93% of white male earnings. The most significant differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites involve education; but here too much of what we hear about Hispanic drop-out rates is misleading. Among the youngest cohort (age 25-34), about 80% of second-generation and about 70% of third-generation Mexican Americans graduate from high school, compared with about 90% of comparable non-Hispanic whites (17). The confusion stems, in part, from combining aggregate data from foreign-born and U.S.-born Hispanics. Mexican immigrants, for example, have very low education levels (about 6 years on average), which depresses the overall education attainment measure for the entire Mexican-origin population since they make up about half the adults in that group.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, it is my sincere hope that this committee will return civil rights policy to its original intent-- that all persons in this society be protected from discrimination on the basis of their sex, race, or national origin-but that none be given preference on those bases either. The time has come to abandon double standards and to promote true equality before the law.
1. See Howard Schumann et al. Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations(Harvard University Press 1988).
2. C.F.R. 19.001(b) (1994).
3. Holly K. Hacker, "Adjusted Federal Employment Tests Stir Controversy," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1992.
4. Institute for the Study of Social Change, "The Diversity Project: Final Report," University of California, Berkeley, November 1991.
5. Ibid., p. 50; and 1990 Census of Population, Social and Economic Characteristics, table 87.
6. Final Report op cit., p. 34.
7. Ibid., p. 28.
9. Ibid., p. 25.
10. Paul M. Snider man and Thomas Piazza, The Scar of Race (Belknap Press 1993).
11. Ibid.,p. 8.
12. Ibid., p. 177. For information on ideology and willingness to support government programs to help blacks, see pp. 66-87.
13. Timothy Bates, "Minority Business Set-Asides: Theory and Practice," Selected Affirmative Action Topics in Employment and Business Set-Asides (Washington: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1985) Vol. 1, p. 142.
14. Digest of Educational Statistics, Master's and Doctorate Degrees Earned by Field and First Professional Degrees in Selected Professions 1991.
15. U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, "Facts on Working Women," No. 93-5, December 1993.
16. Barry Chiswick, "The Economic Progress of Immigrants: Some Apparently Universal Patterns, The Gateway: U.S. Immigration Issues and Policies(Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1982).
17. Author's tabulations from Current Population Survey, matched June-September files for 1986 and 1988.