This paper examines the ongoing political controversy surrounding the enactment and implementation of anti-discrimination and affirmative action policies in employment. A whole new set of employment policies were enacted during the 1960s, ranging from civil rights guarantees of equal employment to new job training programs for inner-city youth and the long-term unemployed. These new employment policies were enacted by the same liberal coalition that had successfully elected President Kennedy in 1960, enacted major civil rights reform in 1964 and 1965, and passed the Great Society legislation in 1965 that had created numerous other new federal social programs aimed at alleviating inner-city poverty.
The coalition had united firmly in opposition to racial segregation and political disenfranchisement in the South; yet, by the second half of the 1960s, as civil rights organizations shifted their attention to the unequal status of blacks in the North, the liberal coalitions support began to erode. As the American economy entered a protracted period of decline in the early 1970s and jobs became more scarce throughout the economy, the old coalition could no longer agree on a common political agenda. As a result, by the 1980 election, conservative proponents of free market economics were able to gain the political ascendancy.
The result has been an almost complete abandonment of all efforts aimed at providing minorities with full access to the labor market. The Reagan administration ended what had been the largest public employment program since the end of the Second World War, CETA, leaving behind a much reduced and restricted job training program. The minuscule efforts at business and economic or community development have been allowed to wither. However, the most serious erosion has been the abandonment of support of equal opportunity and affirmative action efforts. Lending federal support to the notion of "reverse discrimination," the Reagan administration sought to set aside the civil rights laws that guarantee equal employment opportunities. As stated in the National Urban League's 1987 report on The State of Black America, the implementation of these policies at the very time when increasing job scarcity put blacks at a more severe disadvantage has resulted in "a disproportionate share of the burdens generated by the current negative economic trends to be concentrated among blacks."( 1)
By the early 1980s, conservative policy analysts, the press, and Republican Congressmen had successfully discredited many of the existing employment policies making them vulnerable to the political axe of the Reagan budget cutters. The liberal coalition that had spearheaded the