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

Individuals today are being released from state and federal prisons more quickly than they are being admitted. According to the most recent data, over 637,000 people are released each year. Recent data also suggest that approximately two-thirds of those released will be re-arrested within three years. This cycle signals our failure to help re-entering offenders transition to civilian life.

If even a few ex-offenders are more job-ready than some non-offenders, then employers’ statistical discrimination against those with criminal records hurts the most job-ready ex-offenders. This has motivated the “ban the box” (BTB) movement, which calls for employers to delay asking about an applicant’s criminal record until late in the hiring process.

Since young, low-skilled black and Hispanic men are most likely to fall into the ex-offender category, employers may respond to BTB by avoiding interviews with these groups. Advocates for these policies seem to think that in the absence of information, employers will assume the best about all job applicants. Research has shown that providing information about characteristics that are less favorable, on average, among black job-seekers—including criminal records, personality tests, drug tests, and credit histories— actually helps black men and black women find jobs and avoid discrimination.

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