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Does Affirmative Action Work?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Does affirmative action work?

What is affirmative action, then break down the numbers.

Affirmative action, also known as positive action or positive discrimination, involves sets of policies and practices within a government or organization seeking to include particular groups based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed or nationality in areas in which such groups are underrepresented — such as education and employment. Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action has sought to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances.

In some other jurisdictions where quotas are not used, minority-group members are given preference or special consideration in selection processes. In the United States, affirmative action in employment and education has been the subject of legal and political controversy. In 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Grutter v. Bollinger, held that the University of Michigan Law School could consider race as a plus-factor when evaluating applicants holistically and maintained the prohibition on the use of quotas.

Affirmative action encompasses women as well but for this break down only race will be used.

This analysis will focus on the two most important aspects of AA.

Employment and Education (college)


Affirmative action was initiated by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (1963–69)

At the time, a Harris poll showed that 70% of American citizens approved of the Act.

But in a 2022 Pew Research poll, 74% of people responded that race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions.

When admissions offices began admitting more Black students, white applicants claimed they were the victims of "reverse discrimination."

The first legal challenge came in 1971, just two years after schools began adopting affirmative action policies.

(He won)


Colleges and universities began to consider race as a factor in admissions in the late 1960s to diversify student bodies.

These policies aimed to accept more students of color who had historically been excluded from colleges and universities.

However, affirmative action in admissions only applies to selective institutions.

As of 2022, nine states have banned affirmative action, with other states reversing (Texas) or failing to pass (Colorado) the measures.

Initially, affirmative action encouraged employers to hire marginalized people. Presidents LBJ and Nixon both passed executive orders to end race discrimination in hiring.

Soon, colleges voluntarily adopted similar policies to combat racial discrimination. In 1969, many elite universities admitted more than twice as many Black students as they had the year before. This change was directly linked to the civil rights movement.

But the legal system did set limits on affirmative action.

The Supreme Court forced many schools to change their affirmative action policies.

The Supreme Court declared this type of quota system an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and outlawed the practice. While college admissions offices could not use racial quotas after 1978, they could still consider race as one factor among many others.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action at public colleges and universities.

Since 1998, when the amendment went into effect, the number of Latino/a and Black students "has not kept pace with the diversity of students in California K-12 schools or with the overall California population," according to the UC Board of Regents.

In 2020, Californians voted on a ballot measure that would repeal the ban and once again allow affirmative action in college admissions. The measure failed by a wide margin.

In 2007, the Supreme Court prohibited public high schools from using race as a "tiebreaker." In 2014, the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan ban on affirmative action at state universities.

As of 2022 whites have the greatest number of college graduates but Asians who study abroad have the biggest share in terms of graduation rate.

In America, 59.1% of college graduates are White or Caucasian.

25% percent African American.

13.1% of college graduates are Hispanic or Latino.

White and Asian Americans are far more likely to hold a college degree or earn one than Black, Hispanic or Native Americans. Feb 20, 2023

In 2020, the average Black-to-white student graduation rate gap at the top dozen public universities without affirmative action was 10.1%. The average gap at the top dozen public universities with affirmative action was 6%.

Despite setbacks, the overall college population from a minority perspective has increased diversity by over 57%. (, 2017)


Nearly 97 percent of corporate senior executives in the United States are white. Only 5 percent of all professionals are black though blacks comprise 12.7 percent of the work force. Hispanics hold only 4 percent of white-collar jobs but make up 7.5 percent of the work force.

A recent study of 94 Fortune 1000 companies revealed that only 2.6 percent of the surveyed firms' executives were minorities.

March 11, 2021, Although Black employees comprise 14 percent of all US employees, the Black workforce at the managerial level is just half of that: 7 percent. At senior-manager levels—vice president and senior vice president—it declines further, to 5 and 4 percent, respectively.

5.9% of all chief executives in the U.S. are Black, while 85.7% are white, according to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. ccnbccom

The most common ethnicity of managers is White (67.0%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (15.5%), Asian (6.4%) and Black or African American (6.3%).

Asian managers have the highest average salary compared to other ethnicities. Black or African American managers have the lowest average salary at $58,313.

White men may have lost power, but they continue to be the dominant group in the corporate elite — they held 96.4% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions in 2000, and they held 85.8% in 2020. Moreover, since most of the seats lost by white men were lost to white women, and white women make up 6.8% of those who are now CEOs, whites still make up 92.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs. Only 1% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are African-Americans, 2.4% are East Asians or South Asians, and 3.4% are Latinx.

Unemployment by race: 2021

Black or African American: 8.6%

American Indian and Alaska Native: 8.2%

Asian: 5.0%

White: 4.7%

So does Affirmative Action work? Yes. But barely. Even with AA, African Americans still own the lowest statistics in what it was created for...employment & education.

Other Sources:



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