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The mark of a criminal record

  • Devah Pager
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    Over the past three decades, the number of prison inmates has increased by more than 500 percent, leaving the United States the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. With over two million individuals currently incarcerated, and over half a million prisoners released each year, the large and growing numbers of men being processed through the criminal justice system raises important questions about the consequences of this massive institutional intervention. This paper focuses on the consequences of incarceration for the employment outcomes of black and white job seekers. The manuscript is comprised of two studies: the first, a large-scale experimental audit of employers in Milwaukee, used matched pairs of young men to apply for real entry-level jobs to measure the extent to which employers use information about criminal histories and race to screen out otherwise qualified applicants. Indeed, the results of the audit study provide clear evidence for the dramatic impact of both a criminal record and race on employment opportunities: Ex-offenders are one-half to one-third as likely to receive initial consideration from employers relative to equivalent applicants without criminal records. Perhaps most striking, the results show that even blacks without a criminal record fare no better-and perhaps worse-than do whites with criminal records.The second study, a telephone survey of these same employers, gathered self-reported information about the considerations and concerns of employers in hiring entry-level workers, with a specific focus on employers' reactions to applicants with criminal backgrounds. By linking results from the audit study to those of the employer survey, I find that employers' self-reports vastly understate the barriers faced by both blacks and ex-offenders seeking entry-level employment. Though employer surveys can tell us a great deal of useful information about the relative preferences of employers, extreme caution should be used in generalizing these results to estimates of actual behavior. The findings of this project reveal an important, and much under-recognized, mechanism of stratification. A criminal record presents a major barrier to employment, with important implications for racial disparities.

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    Paper provided by The Field Experiments Website in its series Natural Field Experiments with number 00319.

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    Date of creation: 2003
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    Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00319
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    1. Daniel Nagin & Joel Waldfogel, 1993. "The Effect of Convicton on Income Through the Life Cycle," NBER Working Papers 4551, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jeffrey R. Kling, 1999. "The Effect of Prison Sentence Length on the Subsequent Employment and Earnings of Criminal Defendants," Working Papers 156, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Discussion Papers in Economics..
    3. Richard B. Freeman & William M. Rodgers III, 1999. "Area Economic Conditions and the Labor Market Outcomes of Young Men in the 1990s Expansion," NBER Working Papers 7073, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Holzer, Harry J & Raphael, Steven & Stoll, Michael A, 2006. "Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks, and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 451-80, October.
    5. Richard B. Freeman & Harry J. Holzer, 1986. "The Black Youth Employment Crisis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number free86-1.
    6. Richard B. Freeman & Harry J. Holzer, 1986. "The Black Youth Employment Crisis: Summary of Findings," NBER Chapters, in: The Black Youth Employment Crisis, pages 3-20 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Michael Fix & Raymond Struyk, 1993. "Clear and convincing evidence: Measurement of discrimination in america," Natural Field Experiments 00241, The Field Experiments Website.
    8. David Neumark & Roy J. Bank & Kyle D. Van Nort, 1995. "Sex Discrimination in Restaurant Hiring: An Audit Study," NBER Working Papers 5024, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Crime and the Employment of Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3875, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Richard B. Freeman, 1994. "Crime and the Job Market," NBER Working Papers 4910, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Ayres, Ian & Siegelman, Peter, 1995. "Race and Gender Discrimination in Bargaining for a New Car," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 304-21, June.
    12. Richard Freeman, 1987. "The relation of criminal activity to black youth employment," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 99-107, June.
    13. Kornfeld, Robert & Bloom, Howard S, 1999. "Measuring Program Impacts on Earnings and Employment: Do Unemployment Insurance Wage Reports from Employers Agree with Surveys of Individuals?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(1), pages 168-97, January.
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