These days, politicians and political pundits of a particular orientation like to fancy themselves as the spokesmen of science and reason. Often, rudimentary data points on disparities in a number of socioeconomic and political outcomes based on aggregate group labels are upheld as the unquestionable science that proves systemic inequities of some sort, which then justifies policy interventions designed to favor those “disadvantaged” groups.
The candidates, talking heads and policy experts loudly proclaim: observed racial differences in a range of socioeconomic outcomes must be rooted in racism and thus require race-based solutions. The same logic applies to other group-based disparity claims. Treating correlation as causation, conspirators of identity politics dismiss all other variables that may better explain inter-group differences. By doing so, they also intentionally ignore the nuances and complex causal mechanisms inherent in any serious social-scientific inquiry. By giving some favorable treatment based on their group identities, rather than on individual circumstances, policymakers act as if identity-based policy perscriptions are a magic pill that can cure all social ills.
ACA7, a renewed push to legalize racial preferences by Democratic lawmakers in the California state legislature is a perfect example of how easily research can be hijacked by politics. In November 2020, a supermajority of Californian voters—57.2 percent of the electorate or 9.65 million Californians—had struck down a similar proposal (Proposition 16) to repeal the state’s constitutional ban on government preferences in public education, employment and contracting (Prop. 209). However, progressive politicians are scheming again to work around the ban by way of making exceptions to the rule.
This time, ACA7 authors propose a tricky mechanism through which the Governor can authorize research-based or research-informed exemptions to the state’s prohibition on preferential treatment or discrimination. Any individual or group can lobby the Governor with “research” that necessitates government preferences for “increasing the life expectancy of, improving educational outcomes for, or lifting out of poverty specific groups.” The Governor, who is always a partisan, will then have a final say on whether or not government funding and resources can be used to favor “groups based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, or marginalized genders, sexes, or sexual orientations.”
The legislators argue that research in support of legalizing preferences is abundant and clear. During the California Assembly floor session on September 12, 2023, Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, the bill coauthor, rose in strong support of ACA7, arguing that “research continuously shows that communities of color still suffer significantly higher rates of poverty and greater disparities in both health and educational outcomes.” Her words were echoed by Assemblyman Corey Jackson, author of ACA7, who reinstated that “the research is clear: if you cannot see me, you cannot serve me.”
So, exactly what kind of research are these self-righteous advocates against systemic inequities and wrongs inflicted on “their people” due to the state’s ban on government preferences referring to?
Asm. Jackson mentioned as evidence California’s ground-breaking Reparations Report, a 40-chapter manuscript released in May 2023 to offer policy recommendations on how to redress systemic racism affecting California’s African-American community from slavery to the present. Among its voluminous recommendations, the report suggests giving each eligible individual direct cash payments of up to $1.38 million, which in aggregate terms would have doubled California’s total state budget for 2023. To reverse the ongoing discrimination, the report also calls for zero-interest home loans, free college tuition, free healthcare, and tree-planting (for environmental equity). The research supporting each recommendation is flimsy and contested, if not thoroughly debunked.
To attest for the debilitating effects of Prop. 209 on California’s communities of color and justify the exception which will certainly swallow the rule of equal treatment, the California Assembly relied on two studies in its legislative analysis of ACA7. The first was a working paper by a University of California (UC) Berkeley doctoral student demonstrating dramatic declines in the enrollment of underrepresented minority (URM) students in the UC system as a result of Prop. 209. Not peer reviewed at the time of publication, the paper committed basic errors in its methodology and research design. The mistake in the paper’s conclusion is embarrassing given publicly available admissions and enrollment data which shows the opposite. Between 1997 and 2022, URM undergraduate admissions into the UC system have steadily increased from 18 percent to 34 percent.
The second piece of research quoted in ACA7’s legislative analysis is a 2015 Equal Justice Society report arguing that “Prop 209 caused the state and local governments to end their race-conscious contracting programs, costing minority and women business enterprises over $1 billion annually.” The Equal Justice Society is an Oakland-based nonprofit with a mission to transform “the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts.” It is a typical far-left outfitter promoting racial grievance studies and racial grifting policies. On the contrary, a peer-reviewed scholarly article studying the case of the California Department of Transportation finds that Prop. 209 had saved the state and California taxpayers roughly $64 million between 1998 and 1999. That is because “the prices on state funded contracts fell by 5.6 % relative to federally funded projects, for which preferences still applied.”
Not only are over-the-top grievance studies used to legitimize the proposition of blaming systemic inequities for disparities, more rigorous research is also frequently mis-interpreted to guide decision-making.
In 2021, the City of San Diego released a pay equity study that documents gender, racial and ethnic pay gaps among City employees between 2011 and 2019. The 165-page report, lauded as “the most scientifically robust and thorough internal pay equity study any municipality in the United States has conducted to date,” finds that the gender pay gap in the city had narrowed from 18.8 percent in 2011 to 17.6 percent in 2019, while the racial pay gap had widened from 17 percent in 2011 to 20.8 percent in 2019. Notably, the researchers found factors other than intentional bias or discrimination explained the observed income inequality.
Specifically, “occupational sorting” (different jobs held by different people) is the number one reason for pay gaps, explaining 82 percent of the racial discrepancy and 67 percent of the gender discrepancy. In other words, “personal choices, societal forces, and differing barriers to entry” largely account for pay gaps. Men and whites are overrepresented in high-paying and high-risk jobs such as police officers and firefighters. On the other hand, women held 83 percent of lower paying job positions including clerical assistants and administrative aides because women were more likely to apply to these jobs, had more relevant experience and were more likely to learn about such job openings. Additionally, 10 percent of the gender gap and 5 percent of the racial-and-ethnic gap can be accounted for by parenthood.
Despite the fact that the Pay Equity Study cautions against generalized solutions and against attributing the pay gaps to bias, the legacy media rushed to promote a narrative of “disparity caused by inequity” upon the report’s release. The San Diego Union Tribune published an article titled “San Diego pays women, workers of color significantly less than white men, study shows.” KPBS ran a similar title: “Study Of San Diego City Employees Finds Women, People Of Color Receive Lower Pay.” While Fox 5 that “City pays women, people of color less, study finds.” The selective, click-baiting style of news reporting, treating circumstantial evidence as foregone conclusions, was then amplified by San Diego mayor’s pledge to ensure equal pay for women and minorities. In March 2023, San Diego, along with five other California cities, signed the California Equal Pay Pledge, committing itself to reducing “unconscious bias and structural barriers.”
Preferences and discrimination go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. Handlers of racial spoils and identity politics weaponize research to proselytize discriminatory public policies. They must be exposed, confronted, and challenged. That is why, since 2021, we at the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, have taken a number of public entities in California to court in lawsuits against unconstitutional race-preferential contracting and welfare policies.
We will prevail in our unwavering pursuit of equal justice.
Photo by Jared Gould — Adobe — Text to Image