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A Stimulus for Affirmative Action? (Thomas Weisskopf Festschrift Conference Paper)

The construction industry in the United States has long been known for discriminating against women and minorities in its hiring practices. This created considerable concern with respect to the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus program, because it was focused heavily on creating employment opportunities within construction that would disproportionately benefit white males. In “A Stimulus for Affirmative Action? The Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Women and Minority Workers in Construction,” Jeannette Wicks-Lim asks whether current federal affirmative action regulations, as they apply to publically-funded construction projects, have been operating effectively, and thus spreading the benefits of the 2009 stimulus program more equitably than would have occurred otherwise.

Wicks-Lim’s approach to modeling this question takes advantage of the turbulence in the construction industry resulting from the Great Recession. First, as she shows, private sector construction activity fell off dramatically during the recession. This led to an equally dramatic rise in the share of publicly-funded construction activity, and therefore, the coverage of federal affirmative regulations. In addition, the new leadership from the Obama administration that took over the Labor Department in 2009 was committed to enforcing affirmative action policies. Wicks-Lim argues that under these circumstances, the construction industry workforce should have become more diversified after 2009. Indeed, this is the result that emerges from her research. She finds that women and Latinos achieved significant gains in their share of construction jobs, while the picture is more mixed for African Americans.



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