Equal Opportunity and Federal Policy

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I have now chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for five weeks, and more than one reporter has asked me recently what especially qualifies me for this job. To me, the unique feature in my credentials is that I have lived through that which the EEOC and other civil-rights offices are trying to banish. As a youngster growing up in Savannah, Ga., I knew separate water fountains. I remember being excluded from certain parks, stadiums, and movie theaters. I saw the marches of the Ku Klux Klan, the riots, the police dogs and water hoses. I remember stealing away to the confines of an understaffed, understocked library while a large, segregated library was closed to me.

I wasn't alone. There are many others who have my memories, who knew the same hurt, and who have shared the same satisfaction in seeing the changes brought about by the civil-rights movement.

That movement has brought about enormous societal change in the United States. A host of civil-rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fair-housing laws, and equal-employment laws have been passed; dual public-school systems have been eliminated; and colleges and universities once closed to minorities have opened their doors.

These new laws affect every one of the fundamental aspects of daily life--housing, jobs, education, the right to participate in a democratic government--and they have changed, and will continue to change, the entire way of life for many Americans. They are basic to the very functioning of our system of government.

I have pledged to do everything I can to pursue the vigorous enforcement of civil-rights laws by the EEOC. There are some who claim that this Administration has turned its back on civil-rights enforcement, that it has no civil-rights policy, that it is satisfied to watch the clock get turned back in civil-rights areas. Those who make this claim are wrong. I will have no part in turning back the clock, or in seeing past progress undermined by laxness. President Reagan supports vigorous enforcement, and that is exactly what the EEOC will undertake under my leadership.

In his State of the Union Message, the President said: "Our nation's long journey towards civil rights for all our citizens--once a source of discord, now a source of pride--must continue with no backsliding or slowing down. We must and shall see that those basic laws that guarantee equal rights are preserved and, when necessary, strengthened."

While I, too, believe that these laws must be preserved, I also believe that the integrity of these laws must be protected from misuse and abuse. Hubert H. Humphrey, one of the architects of the civil-rights laws, urged that these laws not be jeopardized by the actions of the enforcement agencies. I share this concern. Furthermore, I have no intention of allowing unfounded attacks to prevent me from properly and professionally carrying out the responsibilities of my office. I will, however, encourage dialogue with those who are more interested in civil rights than they are in headlines and sniping. There is simply too much to be done to waste time on needless confrontation.

Despite the progress of the last 25 years, serious problems still exist. Consider, for example, the data on the socioeconomic condition of minority groups. If we use the federal government's poverty index, in the past decade the number of poor black families soared by 22 percent--from 1.4 million to 1.7 million families. There were 300,000 more black families and 745,000 more black individuals below the poverty level at the end of the decade than at the beginning. While 10.2 percent of the white population was below the poverty line, 32.5 percent of the black and 26 percent of the Hispanic populations were below the poverty line, and as of 1980, 43 percent of the population on welfare was black. Even more disturbing, 41 percent of all black children are on some form of welfare.

In the 1970's, the median family income in constant dollars--that is, adjusted for inflation--fell for black families. The disparity between black and white incomes increased. According to the 1980 census, the median income for blacks was $12,670, for Hispanics it was $14,720, and for whites it was $21,904. The unemployment rate for minority group members was 7.9 percent in 1957. In 1980, it was 13.2 percent. The percentage of black males participating in the labor market declined from 83 percent in 1960 to 71.0 percent in 1977. Although Hispanics make up 5.3 percent of the total work population, they are 2.6 percent of the professional and technical workers and 8.5 percent of the laborers. Women earn less than 60 cents for each dollar men earn. Men outnumber women four to one in accounting and banking (at the managerial level). There are eight male physicians for each female physician, nine male engineers for every one female engineer, and for each female blue-collar supervisor there are 13 male supervisors.

A recent series of articles on affirmative action in The Washington Post summed it up this way: "... while affirmative action has accelerated the progress of certain young, well educated, hardworking or outstanding members of the affected groups, it has not affected broad traditional patterns of inequality." In other words, those of us who are the best prepared are the beneficiaries of programs and policies that are, or should be, designed to help the least prepared.

This brings me to the corollary of enforcement. To say that we will pursue vigorous enforcement of civil-rights laws does not mean that we will accept--uncritically and unthinkingly--present approaches and assumptions about civil-rights programs. There are countless examples of programs set up to assist minorities for which there is no proof of effective results.

Take the issue of education, an area with which I am quite familiar after a year as head of the civil-rights office at the Education Department.

Although women received 46.1 percent of all bachelor's degrees, they received 24.3 percent of the Ph.D.'s. Although women now make up over 50 percent of the college population, they still receive a disproportionately high number of bachelor's degrees in the traditional female professions and a disproportionately low number of graduate degrees even in those professions.

For example, although women receive 72 percent of the bachelor's degrees in education, they receive only 35 percent of the doctorate degrees in that field. Women receive 61.3 percent of the bachelor's degrees in fine and applied arts and only 35 percent of those doctorate degrees. Additionally, women receive only 23.4 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in business and management and 4.5 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering.

The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education concluded that black children were not receiving an equal education under the public dual-educational system. The Court decided that a desegregated system was the only way to assure blacks of equal protection under the law and of equal and quality education. Indeed, evidence of the history of disparate treatment of black and white school systems supported this conclusion.

Through the years, this concept has been equated with integration and forced busing. Even today, it is said that educational equality, let alone quality education, is achieved through busing and proportional representation. Indeed, I have been told in no uncertain terms, that the purpose of Brown was not to provide quality education for minorities, but to bring about desegregation. In other words, the primary purpose was not to see to it, as we have believed, that minority-group members get an education, but that they sit next to whites.

Twenty-eight years after Brown, the evidence on minority education at the elementary, secondary, and college levels provides no reason to believe that busing or proportional representation is the route to educational equality.

Among black children between 14 and 17 years old, one in six is out of school. Many of those who graduate are functionally illiterate, unable to read, write and compute; unable to determine if they are getting the correct change when they shop. This pitiful situation also holds for many Hispanic children.

Of the Hispanics who enter high schools, 45 percent leave before graduation. For every 100 Hispanic students who enter school, only 55 graduate from high school; 22 will enter college; seven will graduate from college; and two will finish graduate or professional school. This represents a 93 percent attrition rate from grade school through college.

Attrition is not the only problem, however. For example, although black elementary- and secondary-school students make up 16 percent of the public-school enrollment, they make up 38 percent of the educable mentally retarded classes, and 29 percent of the corporal-punishment cases. The controversy over busing has diverted attention away from the educational problems experienced by minorities at the elementary and secondary levels, and the effects of these problems on the performance of minorities at the college level. Statistics show a continuing decline in black male undergraduate enrollment in recent years. This past school year, blacks made up only 8 percent of the college freshmen. Despite the peak in the mid-1970's black graduate- and professional-school enrollment declined by 5 percent between 1974 and 1978. (Black female graduate enrollment plunged 12 percent during this period. Between 1974 and 1978, black enrollment in professional schools decreased: in medical schools by 1 percent; in dental schools by three percent, in law by 15 percent, and in veterinary medicine by 44 percent.) The number of black students pursuing doctoral degrees is on the decline--both in absolute terms and as a percentage of all Ph.D. candidates.

The National Research Council reported last year that blacks received only 0.9 percent of doctorates awarded in the physical sciences; 1.2 percent in engineering, and 1.5 percent in the life sciences. Less than 3 percent of all Ph.D.s awarded in the 1970's in business and management went to black students and only 1 percent of all engineering doctorates went to black students. All of this occurred during the height of affirmative action and financial-aid programs.

Doctorate degree awards to Hispanics are also appallingly low. In 1977, Hispanics in the United States were awarded 164 doctorate degrees in education; 25 in engineering; 18 in mathematics, and seven in business and management.

A recent poll of black parents in the Boston school system perhaps reveals an awareness of the futility of adhering to a traditional approach in the face of worsening problems. For the past nine years, Boston has been embroiled in a battle over court-ordered busing.

The controversy has centered on schools generally recognized to be of poor quality. Simply put, black kids were bused from bad schools in Roxbury to worse schools in South Boston.

Although most of the parents of black children involved in this plan support integration as a concept, 79 percent would prefer a voluntary parent-choice system of integration. Another important message contained in this poll is that one does not have to be against civil rights to oppose school busing. I believe the same is true for any number of concepts that were initially developed to promote equality but which, in fact, have not done so.

Do not misunderstand my intent: I am not saying that the civil-rights movement has not achieved results, or that statistical disparities portray the whole picture about a program's success or failure. I am saying that we must look at the whole picture. Statistical disparities in employment, for instance, may indicate discrimination in the workplace, or they may indicate inadequate job preparation. We cannot afford to base decisions on the same assumptions, year after year, about the nature of the problem or the requirements for a solution. I intend to use my E.E.O.C. office to question old assumptions: to gather information, analyze it, and use it to check the validity of current policies. I intend to use-finally-the enormous amount of data which the E.E.O.C. has collected over the past 15 years to aid in future policy development. There is too much left to be done in the area of equal opportunity-we cannot afford to devote significant time and energy to policies or programs that effect no measurable progress.

The right choice of policy is only half the task. We also must establish a strong organizational structure in which to implement that policy. It is no secret that the organization and management problems at the E.E.O.C. have had an adverse impact on the commission's enforcement capability.

Report upon report has been issued outlining the seriousness of these problems. To gain a hands-on understanding of the problems, I have taken on the additional role of acting executive director and moved to establish a strict system of control over the agency with a variety of specific actions.

We have much to do. Approximately 32 months remain in this term of the Reagan Administration. In that time, we have four years worth of work to complete.

Thirty-two months are not adequate to address fully the results of current and past job discrimination. Nor can E.E.O. law solve all the problems facing minorities and women.

The federal government's role in alleviating these problems must be grounded in a comprehensive economic recovery program in addition to vigorous civil-rights enforcement. Economic issues manifest themselves in almost every aspect of the issues of minorities and women: housing, employment, and education.

Because these economic issues transcend racial and sex lines, a program aimed at combating them also must transcend racial and sex lines. For example, because minorities are disproportionately poor, they stand to gain more from the institution of such a program. Measures specifically aimed at the economically disadvantaged coupled with strict enforcement of all civil-rights laws, will go a long way towards fulfilling the responsibility of the federal government toward both the minority and nonminority community.

But the federal government cannot act alone. It is also the responsibility of businesses, working with individuals, to help those who traditionally are not part of this country's economic mainstream. As this Administration and Congress work to remove some of the burdens of government regulations and to provide incentives, businesses must recognize their corresponding obligation to be a part of the solution to these economic problems. As chairman of the E.E.O.C., I will attempt to work with businesses to enhance their role in addressing the unemployment and under-employment of minorities and women that result from discrimination.

In closing, let me say that the protection of civil rights demands vigorous enforcement of current law. It requires efficient civil-rights offices and tough civil-rights officials. But it also requires compassionate and creative thinking--the willingness to look at an old problem with new ideas; to realize that in debates about "equal employment," "busing," "fair housing," and all the other buzzwords of the civil-rights vocabulary, we are most importantly discussing people--people who want a fair chance in the workplace, in school, in their community. These people deserve our best energies, our best thinking, and programs and policies that work.

Vol. 01, Issue 38, Pages 20, 24

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