Skip to main content

The effect of changing employers’ access to criminal histories on ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes: Evidence from the 2010-2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform (Jackson & Zhao 2017)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Jackson, O., & Zhao, B. (2017). The effect of changing employers’ access to criminal histories on ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes: Evidence from the 2010-2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform. Boston, MA: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. [Study 1: Ban the Box reform]

Highlights

  • The state of Massachusetts, as part of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform, implemented a policy change known as Ban the Box, which refers to a box job seekers would check to report their criminal histories in job applications. The study’s objective was to examine the impact of Ban the Box on employment and earnings among people with a criminal record. The authors investigated similar research questions for another contrast, which is available here.
  • The authors used a nonexperimental design to compare people with a criminal record who were impacted by the Ban the Box reform with a group of people with a criminal record who were not impacted (that is, those who did not have a criminal record until after the Ban the Box reform). The authors compared impacts on employment and earnings using Unemployment Insurance wage records and CORI from the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services for six quarters after the reform was implemented.
  • For each of the six quarters after the start of the reform, the Ban the Box reform was significantly associated with an employment rate that was 1.0 to 3.8 percentage points lower among the treatment group compared with the comparison group. The reform was also significantly associated with relatively lower earnings among the treatment group in two of the six quarters after the reform but was not associated with a difference in earnings in the other four quarters.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Ban the Box reform; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform

Features of the Intervention

The Ban the Box reform implemented in Massachusetts in November 2010 prohibits employers from including a question about incarceration history on initial job applications. Before the implementation, employers could ask job seekers about their incarceration history on initial job applications. After the Ban the Box reform was implemented, public and private employers were barred from inquiring about incarceration histories on initial applications, unless employers were required by law to make such inquiries, such as those who work with vulnerable populations. Although the Ban the Box reform prohibits asking about this information on initial job applications, it does not prohibit employers from obtaining an applicant’s incarceration history information at a later time point.

Features of the Study

The authors used a nonexperimental comparison group design with a sample of 659,183 people ages 14 to 66 with criminal records in a Massachusetts database from 2010 to 2015. People in the treatment group had a reportable criminal offense before Ban the Box, and the comparison group included similar people who did not have a reportable criminal offense until after the reform’s implementation (2012 or later). The authors matched the treatment and comparison groups on age, gender, race and ethnicity, and geographic location.

Using data from the CORI database—and wage records from the state’s Unemployment Insurance program—the authors examined employment and earnings impacts of Ban the Box for six quarters after it was implemented using a statistical model that compared changes in outcomes before and after the reform between the treatment and comparison groups.

Findings

Employment

  • For each of the six quarters after the start of the reform, Ban the Box was significantly associated with a lower rate of employment among people with a criminal record. This ranged from a 1.0 percentage point decrease (in the first quarter) to a 3.8 percentage point decrease (in the sixth quarter) in average employment.

Earnings

  • In the six quarters after the start of the reform, Ban the Box reform was significantly associated with lower earnings for the treatment group relative to the comparison group in quarters two and six of the six quarters after the reform). There were no significant relationships between Ban the Box reform and earnings in most of the six quarters (quarters one, three, four, and five).

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors did not account for existing differences between the groups before the implementation of the Ban the Box reform. These existing differences between the groups—and not the reform—could explain the observed differences in outcomes.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Ban the Box reform; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

December 2019

Topic Area