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

53 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2016 Last revised: 6 Feb 2017

Jennifer L. Doleac

University of Virginia - Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Benjamin Hansen

University of Oregon - Department of Economics; NBER; IZA

Date Written: January 1, 2017

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 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

Doleac, Jennifer L. and Hansen, Benjamin, Does 'Ban the Box' Help or Hurt Low-Skilled Workers? Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories Are Hidden (January 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2812811

Jennifer L. Doleac (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy ( email )

235 McCormick Rd.
P.O. Box 400893
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4893
United States

Benjamin Hansen

University of Oregon - Department of Economics ( email )

1285 University of ORegon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

NBER ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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