A major policy to help people with criminal records get jobs might be totally backfiring


Across the country, cities, counties and states are working to implement “ban the box” policies, which bar employers from asking about an individual’s criminal record on employment forms.

The well-intentioned goal of these measures is to increase the odds that these individuals find work; the logic goes that if employers can’t see an applicant’s criminal history, they’d be more likely to hire that person, creating more job opportunities for individuals with criminal records looking for a fresh start.

But does ban the box really work? A new working paper suggests they may not.

Jennifer Doleac of the University of Virginia and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon compared employment rates in jurisdictions before and after ban the box measures had been implemented.

Their headline finding was that young, low skilled black men were on average 5.1%-less likely to be employed after ban the box than before. Young, low-skilled Hispanic men were 2.9%-less likely.

Their findings, the accuracy of which Doleac says they are confident of, are below, and can be found in their paper:

Ban the box isn’t a complete bust, the researchers found: the measure did benefit older, low-skilled black men and highly-educated black women, who were “significantly more likely to be employed” after ban the box.

Ban the box had no net effect on white employment, and the effects were smaller in the South because a larger share of job applicants are black.

“When an employer can’t see a potential employee’s criminal record, they’re going to try to guess,” Doleac told me.

And, Doleac and Hansen theorize, because having a criminal record is so highly associated with age, race, and gender, employers revert to rejecting candidates–specifically, young minority males–on the assumption that they are more likely to have criminal records.

So what should be done instead to help people with criminal records get jobs? Doleac says there are no quick solutions, but that advocates should focus on working with employers directly to show how hiring a parolee can help their business and the community.

At least one study has also shown that drug testing is a more effective way to increase minority hiring. A 2015 study by Abigal Wozniak of the Univerity of Notre Dame found that allowing drug testing by employers increased employment for black men by 7-30%.

“More information actually reduces racial discrimination,” Doleac concluded.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.

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