More than a decade after Los Angeles started trying to sidestep California’s affirmative action ban, firms owned by white men won 92 percent of the $2.1 billion in contracts awarded by the city, though they’re just 14 percent of the population.
A diversity program in place since 2001 has had little impact because it’s rarely enforced, according to critics and city officials. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, elected in 2005, has called it “absolutely insufficient.” A compliance scorecard for 2012 detailed how the second-most populous U.S. city fell short of its own goals for bringing female and minority contractors to 22 percent.
The struggle to shake up the status quo in Los Angeles — which has the second-highest share of minority residents of the 10 largest cities, at about 71 percent — underscores the power of prohibitions against preferences for women and traditional minority groups.
With 1996’s Proposition 209, California became the first state to outlaw gender and race preferences, inspiring bans in Washington, Michigan, Nebraska and Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering Michigan’s law in a college case that may affect state prohibitions against factoring in race and ethnicity in hiring, contracting and university admissions.
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