Despite a generation of civil-rights legislation, job discrimination persists at an "alarming" level against women and black and Hispanic men, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said yesterday.
In releasing a 104-page report on minority unemployment in the past decade, chairman Clarence Pendleton said the study showed that hiring bias exists "virtually everywhere, at every age level, at every educational level, at every skill level." The commission's report strongly contradicted arguments by some conservative economists and sociologists that factors such as education, geographical location, the white-male work ethic and training account for the persistently higher unemployment rates among minorities.
The commission also was critical of the Reagan administration, which has waged war against it since President Reagan's inauguration.
Pendleton, Reagan's choice to head the commission, said he was "not optimistic about the future." He said that in an evolving economy, even one that recovers from its current malaise, continuing bias could lead to creation of a "permanent underclass."
"We can respond to this," Commissioner Mary Frances Berry said, "or we can come back here in another 10 years and do another report showing the same result."
Berry expressed hope that the report would "end the debate over whether education and where a person lives result in the disparities in employment." She said it was time to "end that squabbling and get on with the real problem," which she said meant stronger, not weaker, enforcement of affirmative-action laws.
Commissioner Murray Saltzman charged that the report "must be perceived as critical of the administration" even though the years of the study predated the election of Ronald Reagan. Saltzman said the administration "must bear the responsibility for failure to translate the promise of good laws into reality."
Berry also criticized the administration's enforcement of job-discrimination laws. "My concern about President Reagan is that there was too little enforcement in the past and there now will be less," she said.
Pendleton disagreed with criticism of the administration, saying the years studied "spoke for themselves." Later, he told a group of San Diego students that affirmative-action programs have become a "racial spoils system in America." He said he has told Reagan he agrees with "a policy of colorblind racial equality."
The civil rights commission report was three years in the making. It is considered the panel's most in-depth study of unemployment patterns among minorities, particularly to determine statistically whether high unemployment rates were linked to such problems as ethnic differences and the location of many unemployed minorities in central cities.
"The report makes it clear," the commissioners wrote in an appendix, "that we should not blame historically disadvantaged groups for lacking a strong work ethic or for having a different outlook on education. We also cannot blame economic cycles or the age of the population in a particular group. Instead, we must try to end discrimination directly by enforcing the law."
That conclusion refutes the contention of some experts, including conservative black economist Thomas Sowell, that race discrimination no longer is a significant barrier to employment and that government affirmative-action programs often have a negative effect in the hiring of minorities.
It also refutes Reagan administration arguments that discrimination has ended and that affirmative-action programs can be discontinued.
The report includes findings that black males often were more "over-educated" for their jobs than white males, that black females were the group with the highest rate of workers in poverty and that white females were concentrated in low-paying jobs. It also concluded that "education helps everyone, but it helps majority males the most."
The study found that the disparity in unemployment rates actually rose during the 1970s. It concluded this was partly due to the decline of the overall economy, with minority workers hardest hit as the economy weakens. But the study also found that, in good times, the unemployment rate was almost twice as high among minorities.