The Unintended Consequences of 'Ban the Box': Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories Are Hidden
54 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2016 Last revised: 19 Apr 2018
Date Written: January 1, 2017
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 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, guessing that these applicants are more likely to be ex-offenders. This would exacerbate racial disparities in employment. 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 include more ex-offenders.
Keywords: Ban the Box, Discrimination, Employment, Race, Criminal Records
JEL Classification: J71, J78, K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation