Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Diversity by the Numbers : Changes in State and Local Government Workforces 1980-1995

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Diversity by the Numbers : Changes in State and Local Government Workforces 1980-1995

Article excerpt

The tools used to diversify workforces in state and local governments have come under attack and, in at least one state, have been rescinded by voter initiative. The current backlash against these policies begs the question of whether diversification has occurred, and, if so, how the workforce has changed. In this study, we examine demographic changes in the composition of state and local bureaucracies from 1980 to 1995, looking specifically at the share of representation of both women and men as well as of African Americans and whites. We find significant gains have been made by a combination of white and, especially, black women. Overall, as we enter the next decade, we find a state and local government workforce that is moving towards a more equal gender split.

The Civil Rights Act, passed over thirty years ago, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA), in 1972 extended prohibitions against race and gender discrimination to state and local government actions. After a generation of experience with equal opportunity, the employment of African Americans and women in the public workforce remains a topic of political and academic interest, and mechanisms for diversifying the workforce are subject to increasing controversy and contention.

Much of the recent conflict concerning affirmative action policies has been experienced at the state and local levels. In 1995, legislation that would limit affirmative action was introduced in 18 states, and 15 state legislatures considered such measures in 1997. None passed, but many state proposals to curb affirmative action seem to be more tabled than totally defeated.[1] In California, however, Governor Pete Wilson issued an executive order in 1995 that eliminated affirmative action policies not grounded in federal or state law.[2] In 1996, that state's voters approved Proposition 209, which, among other things, outlawed race and gender preferences in state and local employment. Citizen initiatives to end affirmative action were filed in five additional states since 1995. With one exception, these efforts fizzled.[3] That exception was the State of Washington where, in 1998, a petition drive yielded over 280,000 valid signatures, placing the consideration of an affirmative action ban before voters in the November 1998 election.[4] Washington's Initiative 200 would ban race and gender preferences. It passed with some 58 percent of the vote.[5]

The recent fuss over the tools used to diversify the state and local government workforce obscures the central question of whether diversification has occurred and, if so, how the workforce has changed. A 1974 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidebook informed employers that efforts to diversify their workforces would be measured by their results, "...the measurable, yearly improvements in hiring, training, and promotion of minorities and females...."[6] In the 1970s, women and minorities each made gains in joining the state and local government workforce.[7] We examine whether these gains have continued by documenting changes in the composition of state and local workforces from 1980 through 1995, focusing on changes in the employment of men and women as well as of African Americans and whites.

State and Local Jobs as an Allocation Issue

Public sector jobs are a political and economic resource, and decisions about the allocation of resources are the essence of politics. State and local governments' employment of African Americans and women is particularly important because government jobs, perhaps especially local government jobs, traditionally afforded excluded groups a pathway to economic betterment and, for some, to political power.[8] This avenue was largely blocked for minorities and women until the passage of the EEOA. Before 1972, local governments did little better than the private sector in their employment of minorities.[9] The enactment of the EEOA put state and local employment patterns in the spotlight and required the redistribution of employment opportunity. …

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