Ban the box is a misguided public policy putting employers in the position of not knowing the character or honesty of who they hire, and it has consequences that are unintended, as this story from Governing Magazine reports.
For years, policymakers have tried to find the best ways to support ex-offenders as they re-enter society. One idea that’s gained momentum in recent years: “ban-the-box” laws, which bar employers from asking applicants about their criminal history when they first apply for a job. Backed by a broad coalition of interest groups ranging from the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project (NELP) to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a flurry of jurisdictions have enacted these measures. The thought is that when questions concerning criminal records are delayed until later in the hiring process, ex-offenders have a better shot at being hired based on their qualifications.
Nearly half of states and more than 100 localities now have some form of a ban-the-box law on the books.
Most of them cover only public employers or government contractors. But nine states have taken it a step further, barring private employers from asking about criminal records on applications.
Until this year, there was little research into the effect these laws actually had. But a pair of recent studies suggests they carry an alarming unintended consequence: Young African-American men without criminal histories, an already disadvantaged demographic, may find it even harder to receive job callbacks.
In one study, University of Michigan researchers submitted 15,000 fictitious job applications before and after ban-the-box policies went into effect in New Jersey and New York City. Using distinctive applicant names to imply race, they measured whether employers either requested an interview or asked applicants to call them back.
Employers contacted all black applicants at a rate of 11 percent following enactment of the policy. That’s an improvement for blacks with convictions, but a decline for those with clean records, who had previously received callbacks at a rate of 12.7 percent. The study was limited to applicants ages 21-22 during a few months immediately after ban-the-box became effective.