Since the successes of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, society has seen much progress in the quality of life offered to its previously disenfranchised members. Discrimination, which was once not only commonplace but mandated by government regulation, has become anathema and out of place in the modern economy. Equal opportunity employment is widely encouraged; the only controversy stems from what is considered necessary to achieve this lofty goal.
Due to the long history of discrimination that has been visited on those of non-European descent, not only in the United States but around the world, it has been considered inadequate in many businesses and organisations to merely remove barriers to employment. Many have found it necessary to intentionally hire and promote employees of non-European descent, also known as affirmative action. This is controversial, as it is seen as also putting those who otherwise merit consideration for employment at a disadvantage.
The greatest advantage of equal opportunity employment, whether it includes affirmative action or not, is the enfranchising of a group of people who were previously greatly disadvantaged. A society with equal opportunity employment is not only capable of becoming much more just, but also of becoming free of a great amount of social disruption. Equal opportunity employment insures the full utilisation of a society's labour force by employing those best suited to the task.
In order to encourage and even mandate equal opportunity employment, government, both federal and local, has often found it necessary to inspect the workforces of private companies to ensure diversity. Many businesses require very specialised skills that are available among certain groups. This can cause a decrease of diversity even without intentional discrimination. Interfering with private companies to force them to diversify can hinder their well-running operations and cause distortions in the market.
In order to alleviate some of the worst consequences of poverty, the government has found it necessary to create social programs such as welfare and food-stamps. These programs have reduced suffering but done little to actually remove people from poverty and dire circumstances. As an antipoverty initiative, equal opportunity employment offers great promise. As previously excluded groups and individuals gain access to private employment, they will be able to lift themselves out of poverty.