Census data could change affirmative action plans

Minority workers got more computer and mathematical jobs during the 1990s, according to a preliminary analysis of Census 2000 occupational data. Women, however, saw their share of IT occupations drop.

Those demographic changes could affect the affirmative action plans of federal contractors and subcontractors, who must adjust their hiring goals based on the labor pool for their metropolitan areas.

The Special Equal Employment Opportunity Tabulation has the most recent population census statistics on occupation, geographic location, race and gender, said Peter Skalak, senior director of Peopleclick Research Institute of Raleigh, N.C.

The tabulation is relatively narrow compared with the entire Census 2000 results, Skalak said. It reports nationwide gender and race characteristics for 471 job categories. The Census Bureau also broke down those characteristics by metropolitan statistical area, county and state.

The institute divided those jobs into 22 summary groups to study diversity trends at the national level. Most IT jobs are in the group titled computer and mathematical operations. Minorities made their second biggest gain in this group, second only to the category of farming, fishing and forestry, where their ranks rose by 17.3 percent during the 1990s.

Minorities held 25.1 percent of computer and mathematical operations occupations in 2000 versus 16.3 percent in 1990, the institute reported.

The increase in minority representation 'emphasizes the importance of affirmative action and diversity in the workplace,' said Robert Gelerter, director of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity with the Center for an Inclusive Workplace at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP of New York.

Women held 30 percent of the computer and mathematical jobs in 2000, down from 32.3 percent 10 years earlier. The drop contrasted with a 103 percent increase in the total number of IT jobs during the 1990s. Women made gains in some IT categories and losses in others.

Belated tally

The EEO data is a snapshot of the population as of April 2000. The Census Bureau released the EEO tabulation last December only after a consortium of federal agencies, including the Labor Department, requested and paid for it. Census published similar tabulations after the 1970, 1980 and 1990 decennial population counts, with varying sources of public and private funding.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a Labor Department agency, enforces the affirmative action rules for government contractors. Their minority and female workforces must be comparable to analogous percentages of minority and female workers holding such jobs in their metropolitan areas, said Murray Simpson, a Peopleclick economist. If there's an imbalance, the contractors must set internal affirmative action goals.

The institute had to map the 1990 definitions for metropolitan areas to the 2000 definitions, Skalak said. For instance, in 1990, Raleigh and Durham, N.C., were considered one metropolitan statistical area along with three nearby counties. In 2000, however, the Census Bureau split the two cities into a pair of dual-county statistical areas.

As a federal contractor, PricewaterhouseCoopers is required to prepare and update its affirmative action plan annually, said Gelerter, who previously served as deputy director of the OFCCP's New York district office. Each year OFCCP audits a number of contractors based on its budget and the difficulty of the issues it deals with, he said.

According to the OFCCP Web site, contractors may begin using the Census 2000 EEO tabulation immediately. Some companies may already have set their plans for 2004, however, so the agency will start measuring contractors' plans against Census 2000 data for the year beginning Jan. 1, 2005.

Of all broad occupational categories, computer and mathematical jobs increased the most between 1990 and 2000, according to Peopleclick's analysis. Employment of network and systems administrators went up 515 percent, while database administrator jobs soared by a whopping 1,773 percent.

Because the dot-com bust followed Census 2000, however, many of the technology jobs listed in the EEO tabulation may no longer exist, said Lisa Grant Harpe, a Peopleclick industrial psychologist. Nevertheless, Census 2000 listed many job categories that didn't exist in 1990.

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