So far, more than 150 cities and counties in 24 states across the country support a policy called Ban-the-Box” (BTB), which eliminates questions about criminal history on job applications, according to the National Employment Law Project. The goal is to ensure a fair decision-making process by requiring recruiters to focus on a candidate’s qualifications versus screening out ex-offenders early on in the hiring process.
Since roughly 70 million Americans have criminal records, employers must be careful when building or expanding their workforce. However, supporters of BTB say this practice is discriminatory since it can negatively impact specific groups of people like African Americans who disproportionately have criminal records. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
While not the ultimate panacea, BTB seems to be a partial solution for combatting racial disparity in employment. Well, not exactly.
To prove it’s effectiveness, researchers at Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School recently conducted a study on the effects of race and criminal records on employer callback rates. They completed 15,000 fictitious job applications for positions in New Jersey and New York City in waves before and after each area adopted BTB policies. http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/23982-ban-the-box-leads-to-increase-in-employer-racial-discrimination
You’ll never believe what they discovered.
Initially, white applicants received 23 percent more callbacks than similar black applicants. Employers that asked about criminal records were 62 percent more likely to call back an applicant without a record. But what no one expected was that the race gap in callbacks grew dramatically at companies after adopting a BTB policy. Beforehand, white applicants received about seven percent more callbacks than similar black applicants. After BTB was implemented, this gap increased to 45 percent.
“Our results confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but they also support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race,” state the researchers.
Statistical discrimination appears to be a nationwide phenomenon. The researchers theorize that in the absence of information about an applicant’s criminal history, hiring managers will revert to making race-based assumptions like black applicants have criminal records – even when they don’t – and white applicants don’t.
Consider the results of yet another study on the same topic that was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers found that BTB policies decreased the probability of young, low-skilled black men of being employed by 5.1 percent and low-skilled Hispanic men by 2.9 percent. http://www.nber.org/papers/w22469 – fromrss
“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,” states the paper’s authors.
Although well intended, BTB policies may be doing more harm than good for the same groups of people they are trying to protect. So think twice before supporting a BTB policy in your workplace that could make a bad situation much worse.