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Does “ban-the-box” help or hurt low-skilled workers? Statistical discrimination and employment outcomes when criminal histories are hidden (Doleac & Hansen 2016)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Doleac, J. L., & Hansen, B. (2016). Does “ban-the-box” help or hurt low-skilled workers? Statistical discrimination and employment outcomes when criminal histories are hidden. (NBER Working Paper No. 22469). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine how preventing employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record in the early stage of the hiring process (ban-the-box) affected employment outcomes for low-skilled African American and Hispanic men ages 25 to 34.
  • The authors use a nonexperimental difference-in-differences design to compare the employment probability of White non-Hispanic, African American non-Hispanic, and Hispanic men in areas that adopted ban-the-box policies with the employment probability of their counterparts in areas that did not adopt ban-the-box policies. The authors use a linear probability model to estimate employment outcomes. Information on study participant characteristics were from the Current Population Survey in 2004 to 2014.
  • The study found that the probability of African American men obtaining employment was 3.4 percentage points lower among those who lived in areas with ban-the-box policies than among those who did not. In addition, the authors found that ban-the-box policies reduced the probability of African American men obtaining employment by 5.1 percentage points between one and two years after the policy went into effect, by 8.3 percentage points between three and four years afterward, and by 2.3 percentage points four or more years afterward. The study found no statistically significant relationships between ban-the-box policies and employment outcomes for Hispanic men.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the ban-the-box policies, but other factors might also have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Ban-the-Box

Features of the Intervention

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted ban-the-box policies that prevent employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until late in the hiring process. There are three types of categories for this policy: those that affect public employers only, which is the most common; those that affect private employers with government contracts only; and those that affect all private employers. Whether the policy applies to public or private sector jobs, the way it is typically implemented is by removing a box from job applications that applicants must check if they have been convicted of a crime, along with a question about the nature and dates of any convictions.

Features of the Study

The authors used a nonexperimental difference-in-differences design to examine the effect of ban-the-box policies on low-skilled White non-Hispanic, African American non-Hispanic, and Hispanic men ages 25 to 34. The study sample consisted of 503,419 men who had no college degree, of whom 11.9 percent were African American, 14 percent were Hispanic, and the remaining 74.1 percent were White. In all, 46 percent of those in the study sample lived in areas with ban-the-box policies. The authors used a statistical model to compare employment of low-skilled African American and Hispanic men living in areas with ban-the-box policies with the employment of their counterparts living in areas without the policy.

Findings

Employment

  • The study found that low-skilled African American men ages 25 to 34 who lived in areas with ban-the-box policies were significantly less likely to obtain employment after the policy went into effect than their counterparts who did not live in areas with ban-the-box policies by 3.4 percentage points. In addition, the study found that ban-the-box significantly reduced the probability of African American men obtaining employment by 5.1 percentage points between one and two years after the policy went into effect, by 8.3 percentage points between three and four years, and by 2.3 percentage points four or more years afterward. The study found no statistically significant relationships between ban-the-box policies and employment outcomes for Hispanic men.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The Current Population Survey data excludes incarcerated people. If ban-the-box policies increases recidivism and incarceration because it is more difficult to find a job, the study sample will exclude these people. This type of sample selection would create bias in the study findings and make the policies look more helpful to employment than they truly are.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the ban-the-box policies, but other factors might also have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2020

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