The U.S. has become a “country of credentials” because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1971 “disparate impact” ruling, argues Bill McMorris in The American Spectator. Griggs v. Duke Power Company changed how companies hire, pay and promote workers, he writes.
Black workers complained they had to be high school graduates and pass two aptitude tests to be promoted at their North Carolina plant. Blacks were less likely to pass than whites and less likely to have finished high school.
The court agreed that was racist. “What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote.
The military used aptitude testing heavily in World War II and businesses followed suit in the post-war era, writes McMorris. Blue-collar workers could rise through the ranks.
“Despite their imperfections, tests and criteria such as those at issue in Griggs (which are heavily…dependent on cognitive ability) remain the best predictors of performance for jobs at all levels of complexity,” University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax has found.
. . . “Most legitimate job selection practices, including those that predict productivity better than alternatives, will routinely trigger liability under the current rule,” Wax wrote in a 2011 paper titled “Disparate Impact Realism.”
The solution for businesses post-Griggs was obvious: outsource screening to colleges, which are allowed to weed out poor candidates based on test scores. The bachelor’s degree, previously reserved for academics, doctors, and lawyers, became the de facto credential required for any white-collar job.
That’s pushed more people to go to college and into debt, McMorris writes. “One out of every four bartenders has a diploma, and though they listen to moping for a living, few majored in psychology.”