Magazine March 22, 2010, Issue

Color by Numbers

Job seekers at TechFair in Los Angeles, Calif., March 8, 2018 (Monica Almeida/Reuters)
For employers who want to test job applicants, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t

Among the few Americans who have heard of Chester Alan Arthur, his main accomplishment as president is generally considered to be civil-service reform. The Pendleton Act (1883), adopted at Arthur’s urging, provided for most federal jobs to be filled through competitive tests instead of being handed out by political bosses. The principle was eventually adopted by most state and local governments as well.

Today, however, the feds are suing local governments because they use civil-service tests. The Department of Justice has challenged a New Jersey state-police sergeants’ exam because whites passed at a somewhat higher rate (89 percent) than blacks and

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