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STUDY: Young black men hired less when employers can’t ask about criminal history

“Ban the box” is a progressive policy idea that keeps employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories until later in the application process, so that ex-cons aren’t immediately excluded from interviews.

It’s also causing employers to hire fewer black and Hispanic men without college degrees.

The Atlantic reports on new research from multiple teams of scholars:

In a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jennifer L. Doleac of the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon looked at how the implementation of ban-the-box policies affected the probability of employment for young, low-skilled, black and Hispanic men. They found that ban-the-box policies decreased the probability of being employed by 5.1 percent for young, low-skilled black men, and 2.9 percent for young, low-skilled Hispanic men.

That’s because, they say, when employers cannot access an applicant’s criminal history, they instead discriminate more broadly against demographic groups that are more likely to have a criminal record.

The South is the lone American region that’s mostly exempt from this effect “because such a large proportion of job applicants are black.”

Another study by Princeton and University of Michigan Law School scholars found a jump in the hiring of white felons after ban-the-box was implemented:

Overall, their study found that before ban the box, white applicants were called back slightly more often than black applicants were; after ban the box, white applicants were called back six times more often than black applicants were. White ex-offenders were actually helped by the rule, they found, possibly because employers assumed white applicants were unlikely to have criminal histories.

Counterintuitively, giving employers more information actually helped minorities:

One study found that black employment rates actually increased, by between 7 and 30 percent, when employers require drug tests for employees. And another found that when firms conducted criminal background checks, the last hire was 37 percent more likely to be a black man.

Read the story, and beware of good intentions in poorly conceived public policy.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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