Inequalities Can't Be Entirely Erased
It might not be possible to make society totally equitable, whether for women, people of color, or people for disabilities.
Genetic diseases can reduce quality of life and the ability to work. That can affect someone's mental and physical capacities. It can also put strain on their mental health.
Genetic disorders, for instance, can both reduce a person's quality of life and result in limited work opportunities. Disorders with a genetic component such as autism or ADHD can make it more difficult for employees to work with colleagues or focus on a task. Physical genetic disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, may result in reduced mobility which can affect both manual labor jobs and office jobs (someone with MD, for instance, might not be able to access a building that doesn't meet ADA standards). According to results from the Human Genome project—which sequenced the DNA of thousands of people—there are over 6,000 genetic diseases. Of those, 10 are the most common. Those include cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, tay-sachs, and Angelman syndrome. Many of these disorders lead to physical and/or mental challenges. Those can in turn affect both someone’s ability to work and their quality of life.
Ordinary accidents can reduce mobility. Millions of daily injuries can determine people's future. Even mundane accidents can exert a lifetime of consequences.
Ordinary accidents—from falls to car accidents—can reduce a person's capabilities. Car accidents alone, for instance, are a significant factor. Each year in the U.S., there are about 6 million car accidents. Of those, 2 million drivers will experience permanent injuries as a result. Other types of injuries such as tripping, spraining an ankle, or being injured by a falling object are in fact very common. There are a slew of workplace injuries, from violence between employees to strained muscles that can reduce mobility over time. Depending on the circumstances from the injury, an employee may or may not be eligible for workers' compensation. Victims of accidents may see reduced mobility and a need for extra help for things they once did on their own. This in turn can ripple out, creating fewer opportunities professionally and socially.
Military injuries are another form of disadvantage. Mental trauma and physical damage are common. And pregnant women in the armed forces have limited opportunities for advancement.
Military injuries—including psychological trauma—are extremely prevalent among the armed forces. The Army describes the problem of military injuries as an "epidemic." According to a recent report, the rate of injury is 2,500 per every 1,000 soldiers. This means that the average American serving in the Army will endure at least two musculoskeletal injuries. This figure includes injuries sustained both on missions and from Army garrisons. As many as 20% of all veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Persistent flashbacks, moodiness, or anxiety caused by PTSD can prevent veterans from functioning or working normally. Specifically for women, military sexual trauma and other issues can cause permanent damage. Some 23% of female veterans report being sexually assaulted, and 55% report being sexually harassed, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Getting pregnant in the Army also means you can't be deployed and can be honorably discharged. When a woman becomes pregnant in the army she has two choices: either leave the military under an honorable discharge, or become non-deployable while she's pregnant. She is not allowed to handle chemicals or firearms, for instance. This renders female members of the military helpless to continue service similar to their male counterparts and sets them back in their military career. While some states like Washington are working to change their policies so pregnant members have more options, it's a pervasive problem that has yet to be addressed.
Affirmative Action procedures are in place by the U.S. federal government. Both in the private and public sector, these policies look to level disadvantages. Despite criticisms, these programs can be very effective.
The United States has an affirmative action policy that must be upheld by all contractors and sub-contractors working on behalf of the federal government. It says that, "affirmative action must be taken by covered employers to recruit and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans. Affirmative actions include training programs, outreach efforts, and other positive steps." Other types of affirmative action—both at schools and in private workplaces—work to mitigate the marginalization of people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ people. Affirmative action began under President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. The idea was that fighting against discrimination was not enough; the government had to actively do something to create a more equal world. Those policies can play out in terms of quotas for certain marginalized groups, or it can simply mean taking into account a person's identity when making hiring choices. Affirmative action is sometimes criticized by white conservatives who claim that qualified white candidates lose out because of these policies. There is little evidence to support that, according to experts. “There is very little hard evidence to prove that a minority hire almost always took place at the expense of a better-qualified white person,” law professor Melvin Urofsky, author of “The Affirmative Action Puzzle,” told the New Yorker.
For 100 years, labor laws for women have been in place in the United States. Women-specific labor policies have existed for just as long and, together with labor laws, have helped reduce inequality and protect the working population.
For over the past century, the U.S. has had a labor department, meant to guide policies and legislation for workers. Labor activists in the first decades of the 20th century fought for such rights as sick pay, vacation days, and benefits for injured workers. By the 1930s, the secretary of labor would establish the five-day work week, paving the way for other progressive reforms. The United States Department of Labor has had a Women's Bureau for 100 years. The first law was passed 100 years ago and gave the bureau the right to "formulate standards and policies which shall promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” During and after the Great Depression, labor protections were hugely expanded, establishing unemployment benefits, social security, and a federal minimum wage. The New Deal was designed primarily by a woman, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The protections established throughout the 20th century were designed to reduce inequalities and to protect workers—of all identities—from being exploited.