Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

What Does Discrimination Cost?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | May 11, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Jody Herman, Massachusetts, Williams Institute

A new research study released today by The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy shows that employment discrimination against transgender residents of Massachusetts likely costs the Commonwealth millions of dollars each year.

The findings are obvious, of course -- any factor that puts people out of work results in lower tax revenue and increased public assistance. Nonetheless, the importance of this study is its quantification of these costs based on research. While one might quibble with some of the numbers, the general conclusion that Massachusetts has lost money as a result of discrimination is undeniable.

This study is particularly important in light of the fact that Massachusetts is considering enacting a statewide anti-discrimination ordinance based on gender identity. The opposition is, of course, raising crazy objections appealing to prejudice about "bathroom bills" and trans women touching you in the bathroom, although not one documented case of violence or harassment by a transgender woman in a public bathroom in a jurisdiction with trans protections can be found during the past 35 year history of trans protections.

But I can think of another objection that anti-trans forces might bring to this study, but, as usual, I can also think of a counter-argument. Can you guess what it is?

I'm not referring to the fairly simple objections of how many trans-identified people there are. That's always going to be up in the air, unless and until there is an agreed-upon definition of "transgender" and/or "transsexual" (please forego the comments with all caps and exclamation points -- it's my birthday, okay? :), and until we are included in the U.S. Census. Until then, we have to make our best estimates based on the survey data, flawed as it is. The question of how much discrimination really occurs is also difficult to establish definitively based on self-reports, but given that we have not been included in charge statistics, and the fact that many people do not have the resources or confidence in the system to bring legal claims, we have to go by the surveys we've got.

No, the objection I'm talking about is the idea that if trans people get protections, and jobs, someone else is going to be out of a job. That someone else is some less qualified cisgender people, who are occupying jobs now by virtue of the existing discrimination that freezes more qualified trans people out of those jobs. Now, those less qualified cisgender people might have some competition. Cisgender supremacists are going to have a cow over this, especially now that this study shows that tens of thousands of trans people might be lining up for their jobs. Of course they hate us simply because of who we are, but imagine how much more they'll hate us when they think about us taking their jobs.

The obvious counterargument to all this is that the economy is not a "zero-sum" game. It expands, and it contracts, and when more talented people are doing the jobs, there is more productivity and the economy expands, creating more jobs. That's what happened when minorities and women were finally allowed into the workforce by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (That fight's not over, but it's much improved since 1964). Of course, supremacists also howled over letting the "others" compete for their jobs, but the economy accommodated this quite nicely. The pie expanded. That's what happens when you create equality of opportunity -- everybody wins.

Here's the whole press release.

LOS ANGELES - A new research study released today by The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy shows that employment discrimination against transgender residents of Massachusetts likely costs the Commonwealth millions of dollars each year. These costs are the result of reduced income tax revenue, expenditures on public assistance programs, and other costs. The added cost to the Commonwealth for public health insurance coverage alone is $3 million annually due to employment discrimination against transgender workers.

"When transgender people experience employment discrimination, not only can that have a substantial negative impact on people's lives, but it also affects the Commonwealth financially so all Massachusetts residents pay a price," said study author Jody L. Herman, the Peter J. Cooper Public Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute.

In calculating the cost to the Commonwealth, the study estimates that 6,600 Massachusetts residents have lost a job, 12,900 were not hired for a job, and 5,600 were denied a promotion, all due to due to anti-transgender bias. Furthermore, 15 percent of surveyed transgender Massachusetts residents made $10,000 or less in annual household income, whereas only 3 percent of the Massachusetts general population made this amount.

Employment discrimination can lead to lost wages and the need to access public assistance programs to replace lost income and health insurance coverage. This study estimates that the Commonwealth may be losing millions in income tax revenues each year due to employment discrimination. In addition, the Commonwealth is spending nearly $3 million every year in public health insurance coverage for those who have lost jobs due to anti-transgender bias.

Herman continued: "Clearly there is a need for more study of these issues. The Commonwealth pays the price when the fiscal ripple effect of employment discrimination is closely examined. In addition to public assistance and health insurance costs, housing instability and the need to access Commonwealth-funded job training and placement programs should also be considered for further study."

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policymakers and the public. This study can be accessed at the Williams Institute website, www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute.

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I thought pretty much the same thing when I saw this press release - did they assume that none of the trans people who were fired were replaced by cis workers? Did they assume that none of the employers who denied a trans person a promotion gave the promotion to a cis person? Did they assume that the employers trans people who couldn't find a job interviewed with hired no one in the end?

Sure, there's some money the state spends during the time that an employer searches for a replacement, and some productivity lost because a less qualified cis person takes over a job that they might have to spend months learning that a trans person already knew. That might make for an interesting study.