These Americans may suffer the most from a Trump hiring freeze


President Trump’s order this week for an immediate hiring freeze could hurt African Americans more than other workers because they make up a disproportionate share of the federal workforce.

Black workers make up 18 percent of the nation’s 2 million federal workers — more than any other minority group. But they account for only 11 percent of employed civilians, a category that includes government and private industry work, and 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to government data.

Government work has played an especially important role in the economic advancement of black Americans, following President John F. Kennedy’s efforts to make the federal government a model for fair hiring at a time blatant racism pervaded the country’s job market.

Hundreds of thousands of blacks were able to ascend to the middle class through federal jobs, often attained through mentoring programs and a tight network of African American fraternities and sororities. In addition to nondiscriminatory hiring practices relative to the private sector, government jobs offered security, solid incomes and generous retirement benefits.

“Historically, there’s been no doubt that even before the Civil Rights movement, the black middle class has been built upon government employment, and no more so than in the Washington, D.C. area,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he leads the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. “The freeze will disproportionately hurt African Americans. There is no doubt about that.”

Cutting off the flow of workers into the federal government will also potentially reduce the equalizing effects of government employment, said Jennifer Laird, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University who studies ethnic and racial labor market stratification. The public sector offers greater transparency than the private sector when it comes to promotions, through regularly scheduled opportunities for upward mobility, she said. The result: 15 percent of government managers are black, compared with just 6 percent of private-sector managers.

The hiring freeze, which does not apply to military personnel, is supposed to be lifted in 90 days, at which time the Trump administration would begin implementing a long-term plan to permanently reduce the size of the federal workforce. Anxiety is rampant among federal workers, particularly minorities.

Many residents of Prince George's County, Md., among the richest black communities in the United States, achieved their wealth by working as civil servants, said Tanya Ward Jordan, president and founder of the Coalition for Change, a nonprofit group focused on addressing race discrimination in the federal government. Many, though, continued to face discrimination, particularly when it came to securing promotions.

“The Trump freeze will certainly impact many; however, it will undoubtedly hit the black community hard,” Ward Jordansaid. “Black Americans are rarely the benefactors of the privilege which others, at times, use to circumvent government hiring freezes.”

Whites, of course, make up the majority of the federal workforce, with 65 percent representation. In comparison, whites represent 64 percent of employed civilians and 62 percent of the country’s population.

Hispanics are the only underrepresented ethnic group, accounting for just 8 percent of the federal workforce despite making up 17 percent of employed civilians and 18 percent of the U.S. population. Trump’s hiring freeze could set Hispanics back even further.

Like blacks, Hispanics may be hard hit, but for a difference reason. The freeze would abruptly halt initiatives under the Obama administration to further diversify the federal workforce. President Obama had issued an executive order in 2011 to promote inclusion in the government workforce. The effort included using data to measure every aspect of the recruitment, screening, and hiring process to identify roadblocks to a more diverse workforce.

Advocates for minority federal workers worry that under the Trump administration, collection of data on racial disparities would disappear or be scaled back, given the hostility of some congressional Republicans to the focus on diversity. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) recently introduced bills to prohibit federal funds from being used for a database documenting racial disparities in access to affordable housing.

“Now, with Trump’s hiring freeze, these proactive efforts to improve diversity hiring are going to be put on a shelf. They could be delayed or eliminated entirely,” said Gilbert Sandate, chairman of the Coalition for Fairness for Hispanics in Government. “It’s almost like the Trump administration is announcing, ‘We’re back to square one, folks.’”

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

Hispanics, despite explosive growth in the United States in recent decades, have been chronically underrepresented in the federal government, increasing an average of 0.12 percent each year over the last 40 years, said Sandate, who retired after 34 years of working in the government. That gap, he said, translates to the Hispanic community losing 100,000 government jobs and $5 billion in salaries.

“Knowing what we do about this new president’s views about diversity and inclusion in general, and in particular about immigrants like Mexicans and Muslims, these things do not bode well for minority workers,” said Sandate, who had been the director of workforce diversity at the Library of Congress, the director of civil rights at the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation, and a longtime director of equal employment opportunities for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“If there can be no hiring,” he said, “there could be no meaningful barrier analysis conducted, and there could be no movement forward.”



By Tracy Jan