Title VII, the Rise of Workplace Fairness, and the Decline of Economic Justice, 1964–2013

Source: Touré F. Reed, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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…While the rise of diversity reflects the conservative turn in American politics since the 1980s, diversity’s disregard for economic inequality can be traced in part to the limitations of Title VII. To be sure, Title VII has succeeded in opening opportunities to minorities and women while making the workplace “fairer” for everyone. Nevertheless, its narrow focus on employment bias helped establish a framework that divorced discrimination from the structural roots of poverty and unemployment. Indeed, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ commitment to commercial Keynesianism precluded comprehensive antipoverty initiatives of the sort proposed by Secretary of Labor Wirtz or even Senator Humphrey’s S1937. Though much has changed since 1964, the employment opportunities available to minorities and women remain bound to the trajectory of the broader economy. The high rates of black unemployment and poverty today, for example, are a reflection on the health of the sectors of the economy that have employed a disproportionately large share of African Americans – the public sector, manufacturing and construction, transportation, and retail and service. Title VII is, of course, still relevant to the life chances of underrepresented groups. Nevertheless, if the endgame is simply to secure a seat at an ever-shrinking table, more and more minorities and women will remain standing in the unemployment line….