An Analysis of the Impact of Affirmative Action Programs on Self-Employment in the Construction Industry

01 November 2005
By Dr. Jon Wainwright with Professor David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College

Existing evidence suggests that the under-representation of women and minorities in the construction industry is due to widespread and pervasive discrimination. Not only is the proportion of firms owned by African-Americans especially relatively low, so also is their representation in the construction workforce in general and in self-employment in particular. While firms owned by minorities and women do exist in construction, they are more likely than non-minority males to be in special trades rather than heavy and civil. They are also more likely to be sub-contractors than prime contractors.

In this working paper, the authors argue that despite the existence of various public sector affirmative action programs designed to improve the position of women and minorities in the construction industries, in the face of a wave of legal challenges alleging that affirmative action is unconstitutional, little has changed for these groups in the last twenty-five years. Using data from the Current Population Survey and the Census, the authors demonstrate that affirmative action programs and the legal challenges that have accompanied them have not helped more minorities become business owners nor raised their average earnings over the 1979-2004 period, though the position of white women in construction has improved significantly.