Unit 4: Income Equality, Equal Employment, and Affirmative Action
In this unit, we examine three controversial areas of public policy, where the government intentionally treats groups of people differently to promote the common good. Since 1916, the federal government has taxed the income of citizens, residents, and anyone present in the United States and its sovereign territories. Most states and a few cities also impose income taxes. Critics claim the income tax system is grossly unfair. The basis for this claim depends on the group being examined.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, seek to ensure barriers to employment and advancement are not based on race, national origin, disability, gender, religion, age, or family status. If these policies are not economically neutral, how do we assess claims of fairness against claims of economic efficiency?
What is the ethical justification for treating individuals differently in certain circumstances? What gives governments the right to tell businesses how to operate, or how they choose, hire, and discipline their employees?
Critics complain that affirmative action programs give preferential treatment to certain groups, to the detriment of others. Others argue these programs intend to remedy past systemic discriminatory practices. While we have seen abuses and injustices in the system, much public disagreement is due to a misunderstanding of the application of the policy and myths about affirmative action.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.
4.1: Income Equality
Some argue that the way we construct and enforce a tax system is the most fundamental public policy question a modern government faces. Taxes are where the government gets the power to operate and enforce rules. The tax rate also determines how much spending power companies and individuals have. Since taxes affect our economic and social well being, they often comprise a significant part of our political discourse.
4.2: Equal Employment Opportunity
The U.S. Congress created equal employment rules in the 20th century to combat the prejudices and biases of American hiring managers. Equal employment rules have changed during the past 50 years – these federal standards apply to most businesses in the United States.
4.3: Affirmative Action
Affirmative action accompanies equal employment rules as it seeks to balance the racial scales. The U.S. Congress put these policies in place to increase the number of non-white Americans who get into college, work in specific jobs, and participate in other segments of society.
Unit 4 Assessment