Do Ban the Box Laws Help?

Many states have been introducing “ban the box” type laws intended to prevent discrimination in hiring against job seekers with a criminal history. Many hope that this will reduce the barriers to employment for these individuals and help them to reenter the workforce, but do these laws actually help?

Many have praised the positive impacts of these laws, which prevent employers from including questions about criminal history on the application. However, some evidence indicates that these laws may not only fail to help young black applicants but may even hurt their chances for employment.

Employers are naturally concerned with keeping their businesses, employees, and customers safe. As a result, employers are suspicious at the first sign of risk, which leads them to be particularly nervous when it comes to those that have recently been released from prison. During this time, employers are concerned about whether an individual may still be criminally active.

These laws do remove access to information on an individual’s criminal history generally at least until after an initial interview. As a result, these laws appear to succeed in increasing call-back rates for those with criminal convictions. However, the results have been mixed; in some cases, they appear to have increased employment rates for those with prior convictions.

Additionally, when removing an employer’s access to criminal history, these same employers are still likely to have the same level of concern, but they will not have confirmation either way. As a result, a recent study seems to suggest that instead of simply choosing not to consider it at all, this lack of information may simply cause some employers to make assumptions based on their own biases. This study found that banning the box laws appears to lower the rate of hiring for young, low-skilled black and Hispanic men by several percentage points.

This seems to indicate that when trying to guess who has a criminal record or not, some employers may assume that young black and Hispanic men, who are statistically more likely to have been incarcerated, will have criminal records and choose not to interview them at all. These policies do appear to help older black populations, possibly because employers are more likely to assume that they are less criminally active.

This means that well-intended ban-the-box policies may have the unfortunate side effect of harming the groups which have the most to gain from them. Ban-the-box policies do not appear to have a significant impact upon young, low-skilled white workers or workers with college degrees.

Overall, many critics would argue that the negatives of these laws outweigh the positives. Though they may improve the lives of some, they appear to have unintended consequences for others.

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