Affirmative action bans and minority employment: Washington State’s Initiative 200 (Colello 2011)
Colello, A. (2011). Affirmative action bans and minority employment: Washington State’s Initiative 200. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.
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- The study’s objective was to assess the effect of Washington State’s Initiative 200 (I-200), which repealed affirmative action statewide, on racial and ethnic minority employment and wages.
- Using the Current Population Survey (CPS) outgoing rotation groups from 1993 to 1996 and 2000 to 2003, the author compared changes in racial and ethnic minority employment and wages relative to white employment and wages in Washington State to the corresponding changes in the rest of the United States.
- After the state’s affirmative action repeal, Washington State residency was associated with a 4.1 percentage point increase in unemployment for African Americans relative to whites.
- The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects were attributable to I-200; other factors are likely to have contributed.
Features of Washington State's I-200
In 1998, the state of Washington prohibited preferential treatment for racial, ethnic, and other minorities in public education, contracting, and employment, releasing state employers and contractors from federal equal employment opportunity standards. Federal antidiscrimination statutes continued to apply to federal contractors.
Features of the Study
The author assessed the effect of the 1998 affirmative action repeal on racial and ethnic minority employment by comparing changes in outcomes of racial and ethnic minorities relative to whites in Washington State before and after the affirmative action repeal of I-200 with corresponding changes in the rest of the United States. Using data from the outgoing rotation groups of the 1993–2003 CPS, the author estimated regressions of the outcomes on indicators of minority group status, time period (before and after 1998), Washington status residency, and their interactions. Each model used one of four outcomes (wages, employment, unemployment, or labor force non-participation) and a specific minority group (African American, Hispanic, other minority, or any racial or ethnic minority). The regression models controlled for individuals’ age, marital status, education level, citizenship status, and metropolitan residence status.
- The study found that after enactment of I-200, the relative unemployment rate for African Americans in Washington increased significantly compared with the relative unemployment rate for African Americans nationwide by 4.1 percentage points.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The author did not account for existing differences in trends in outcomes for whites versus African Americans before I-200. That is, if the relative employment rates of whites and African Americans in Washington were evolving differently than those for the rest of the country before I-200, the estimated impacts could represent the effects of historical trends rather than the effect of the affirmative action repeal.
In addition, the author estimated multiple related impacts on outcomes related to employment. Performing multiple statistical tests on related outcomes makes it more likely that some impacts will be found statistically significant purely by chance and not because they reflect program effectiveness. The author did not perform statistical adjustments to account for the multiple tests, so the number of statistically significant findings in this domain is likely to be overstated.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects were attributable to I-200; other factors are likely to have contributed.