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

47 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2016 Last revised: 6 Aug 2016

See all articles by Jennifer L. Doleac

Jennifer L. Doleac

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics

Benjamin Hansen

University of Oregon - Department of Economics; NBER; IZA

Date Written: July 2016

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

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 (July 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22469, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2816743

Jennifer L. Doleac (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://jenniferdoleac.com/

Benjamin Hansen

University of Oregon - Department of Economics ( email )

1285 University of ORegon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

NBER ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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IZA ( email )

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