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Does “Ban the Box” Help or Hurt Low-Skilled Workers? Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories are Hidden

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  • Jennifer L. Doleac
  • Benjamin Hansen

Abstract

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted "ban the box" (BTB) policies preventing employers from conducting criminal background checks until late in the job application process. Their goal is to improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment. However, removing information about job applicants' criminal histories could lead employers who don't want to hire ex-offenders to try to guess who the ex-offenders are, and avoid interviewing them. In particular, employers might avoid interviewing young, low-skilled, black and Hispanic men when criminal records are not observable. This would worsen employment outcomes for these already-disadvantaged groups. In this paper, we use variation in the details and timing of state and local BTB policies to test BTB's effects on employment for various demographic groups. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of being employed by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men, and by 2.3 percentage points (2.9%) for young, low-skilled Hispanic men. These findings support the hypothesis that when an applicant's criminal history is unavailable, employers statistically discriminate against demographic groups that are likely to have a criminal record.

Suggested Citation

  • Jennifer L. Doleac & Benjamin Hansen, 2016. "Does “Ban the Box” Help or Hurt Low-Skilled Workers? Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories are Hidden," NBER Working Papers 22469, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22469
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    Cited by:

    1. Osborne Jackson & Bo Zhao, 2017. "The effect of changing employers’ access to criminal histories on ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes: evidence from the 2010–2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform," Working Papers 16-30, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Allison Dwyer Emory, 2019. "Unintended Consequences: Protective State Policies and the Employment of Fathers with Criminal Records," Working Papers wp19-04-ff, Princeton University, School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
    3. Mueller-Smith, Michael & Schnepel, Kevin T., 2016. "Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders," IZA Discussion Papers 10409, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Kevin Lang & Ariella Kahn-Lang Spitzer, 2020. "Race Discrimination: An Economic Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 34(2), pages 68-89, Spring.
    5. Graddy-Reed, Alexandra & Lanahan, Lauren & Eyer, Jonathan, 2019. "Gender discrepancies in publication productivity of high-performing life science graduate students," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(9), pages 1-1.
    6. Joanna N. Lahey & Douglas R. Oxley, 2018. "Discrimination at the Intersection of Age, Race, and Gender: Evidence from a Lab-in-the-field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 25357, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Dylan Minor & Nicola Persico & Deborah M. Weiss, 2018. "Criminal background and job performance," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 7(1), pages 1-49, December.
    8. Cody Tuttle, 2019. "Snapping Back: Food Stamp Bans and Criminal Recidivism," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 301-327, May.
    9. Chen Liang & Yili Hong & Bin Gu, 2017. "Home Bias in Global Employment," Working Papers 17-06, NET Institute.
    10. Moshe A. Barach & John Horton, 2017. "How Do Employers Use Compensation History?: Evidence from a Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 6559, CESifo.
    11. Courtney C. Coile & Mark G. Duggan, 2019. "When Labor's Lost: Health, Family Life, Incarceration, and Education in a Time of Declining Economic Opportunity for Low-Skilled Men," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 33(2), pages 191-210, Spring.
    12. Ning Fu & Donna B. Gilleskie & Shawn Kneipp & Todd Schwartz & Amanda Sheely, "undated". "The Effects of a Criminal Record on Employment, Welfare Participation, and Health: A Model of Long-Run Behaviors and Outcomes when Lagged Variables are Missing Non-Randomly," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 076c7c96e69042ea8a73646bf, Mathematica Policy Research.
    13. Anthony M. Marino, 2020. "Banning information in hiring decisions," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 58(1), pages 33-58, August.
    14. Amanda Agan & Sonja Starr, 2016. "Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Statistical Discrimination: A Field Experiment," Working Papers 598, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    15. Patrick Bennett & Amine Ouazad, 2020. "Job Displacement, Unemployment, and Crime: Evidence from Danish Microdata and Reforms [The Link between Human Capital, Mass Layoffs, and Firm Deaths]," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 18(5), pages 2182-2220.
    16. Ariel J. Binder & John Bound, 2019. "The Declining Labor Market Prospects of Less-Educated Men," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 33(2), pages 163-190, Spring.
    17. Osborne Jackson & Riley Sullivan & Bo Zhao, 2017. "Reintegrating the ex-offender population in the U.S. labor market: lessons from the CORI Reform in Massachusetts," New England Public Policy Center Research Report 17-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    18. Jeffrey Clemens & Lisa B. Kahn & Jonathan Meer, 2021. "Dropouts Need Not Apply? The Minimum Wage and Skill Upgrading," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(S1), pages 107-149.
    19. Joshua M. Congdon-Hohman, 2018. "The persistent labor market effects of a criminal conviction and �Ban the Box� reforms," Working Papers 1808, College of the Holy Cross, Department of Economics.
    20. Hunt, Priscillia E & Smart, Rosanna, 2020. "Investigation of Employers' Preferences for the Design of Staffing Agency Incentives to Hire Ex-Felons," IZA Discussion Papers 13520, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    21. Asad, Asad L. & Clair, Matthew, 2018. "Racialized legal status as a social determinant of health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 199(C), pages 19-28.
    22. Darolia, Rajeev & Mueser, Peter & Cronin, Jacob, 2021. "Labor market returns to a prison GED," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).
    23. Kabir Dasgupta & Keshar Ghimire & Alexander Plum, 2021. "We focus on New Zealand’s clean slate legislation to analyze whether automatic concealment of criminal records improves ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes. Based on the legislation’s eligibility requ," Working Papers 2021-06, Auckland University of Technology, Department of Economics.
    24. Mueller-Smith, Michael & Schnepel, Kevin T., 2016. "Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders," Working Papers 2016-16, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
    25. Boyd-Swan, Casey & Herbst, Chris M., 2017. "Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in the Labor Market for Child Care Teachers," IZA Discussion Papers 11140, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination
    • J78 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Public Policy (including comparable worth)
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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