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The Effect of Political Power on Labor Market Inequality: Evidence from the 1965 Voting Rights Act (with Carlos Avenancio-Leon)

April 23, 201912:00 pm1:30 pm



A central concern for racial and ethnic minorities is having an equal opportunity to advance group interests via the political process. There remains limited empirical evidence, however, whether democratic policies designed to foster political equality are connected causally to social and economic equality. In this paper, we examine whether and how the expansion of minority voting rights contributes to advances in minorities’ economic interests. Specifically, we consider how the political re-enfranchisement of black Americans in the U.S. South, stemming from the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), contributed to improvements in their relative economic status during the 1960s and 1970s. Using spatial and temporal variation arising from the federal enforcement provision of the VRA, we document that counties where voting rights were more strongly protected experienced larger reductions in the black-white wage gap between 1950 and 1980. We then show how the VRA’s effect on the relative wages of black Americans operates through two demand-side channels. First, the VRA contributed to the expansion of public employment opportunities for black workers. Second, in line with previous work on the importance of civil rights laws, the VRA contributed to and complemented the enforcement of labor market policies such as affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws.


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About the Speaker:

Abhay P. Aneja is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and his dissertation is The Labor Market Effects of Minority Political Empowerment: Evidence from the Voting Rights Act.  Abhay’s research centers on how the political rights of historically marginalized minority subpopulations translates into concrete economic progress. He seeks to understand whether minority political empowerment is linked to economic opportunity in the form of labor market gains for the historically disenfranchised. His dissertation project uses the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to examine how the re-enfranchisement of black Americans contributed to their improved labor market performance over the 20th century.



Dr. Steven Pitts came to the Labor Center in August of 2001 from Houston, Texas. Steven received his Ph.D. in economics with an emphasis on urban economics from the University of Houston in 1994. His master’s degree is also from the University of Houston and he holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. For the fifteen years prior to his arrival at the Labor Center, Steven taught economics at Houston Community College and, for five years, he was an adjunct lecturer in the African American Studies Program at the University of Houston. At the Labor Center, Steven focuses on issues of job quality and Black workers. In this arena, he has published reports on employment issues in the Black community, initiated a Black union leadership school, and shaped projects designed to build solidarity between Black and Latino immigrant workers. Currently, a major area of his work involves providing technical assistance to efforts in developing Black worker centers around the country.