The push to remove questions about criminal history from job applications might be having the opposite affect than intended

Efforts to “Ban-the-Box” (BTB), a term for removing questions about criminal history from job applications, have recently gained traction, with 23 states passing such policies.

The adoption of BTB policies have largely been lauded as a civil rights victory, removing the barriers to the estimated 70 million citizens with criminal histories.

A new study from researchers at Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School, however, attempted to identify the effects of such policies on job applicants.

They surmised that BTB may negatively impact certain applicants, particularly African Americans.

“In the absence of individual information about which applicants have criminal convictions, employers might statistically discriminate against applicants with characteristics correlated with criminal records, such as race,” the researchers wrote.

“Applicants with no criminal records who belong to groups with higher conviction rates, such as young black males, would be adversely affected by BTB policies,” they continued.

NycFlickr/Erik DrostResearchers sent 15,000 fictitious applications for jobs in New York and New Jersey.

To examine this potential, the researchers sent out about 15,000 fictitious online job applications for entry-level positions in New Jersey and New York before, and then after, the jurisdictions adopted BTB policies. Their findings were startling.

“Before BTB, white applicants to BTB-affected employers received about 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants, but BTB increases this gap to 45%,” the paper stated.

The findings directly contradict one of the main goals of BTB policies: to reduce racial disparity in employment and increase access to employment for black men. Prison incarceration disproportionately affects men of colour; one in three black men can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.

The increasing gap between black and white callback percentages speaks to “statistical discrimination,” according to the paper and necessitates further questioning of the idea that BTB will improve racial disparity in employment.

The findings provide context for BTB’s growing momentum in college admissions policies.

In May, the US Department of Education (ED), held a news conference and urged colleges and universities to remove questions about criminal history from applications. Rather than focusing on racial equality in college admissions, the ED’s message centered on allowing second chances for those convicted of crimes.

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