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"Ban the Box" does more harm than good

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Jennifer Doleac, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, has this post with the above title on Brookings' site.

Life in prison is meant to be difficult. But it doesn't always get better once you're out. Re-entering offenders often have a tough time finding employment, even when they are motivated and able to work. But "ban the box" - a popular policy aimed at helping ex-offenders find jobs - doesn't help many ex-offenders, and actually decreases employment for black and Hispanic men who don't have criminal records. This is a classic case of unintended consequences. We should repeal "ban the box" and focus on better alternatives.
The core purpose of civil rights laws, too many people too often forget, is for people to be judged on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin or other irrelevant characteristics.  Recent research indicates that banning the box is causing a step backward.

If you take information about criminal records away, what happens? Employers are forced to use other information that is even less perfect to guess who has a criminal record. The likelihood of having a criminal record varies substantially with demographic characteristics like race and gender. Specifically, black and Hispanic men are more likely than others to have been convicted of a crime: the most recent data suggest that a black man born in 2001 has a 32% chance of serving time in prison at some point during his lifetime, compared with 17% for Hispanic men and just 6% for white men. Employers will guess that black and Hispanic men are more likely to have been in prison, and therefore less likely to be job-ready.
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Amanda Agan and Sonja Starr submitted thousands of fictitious job applications before and after "ban the box" went into effect in New Jersey and New York City, randomly assigning race and criminal history to each "applicant." They then tracked the number of callbacks received. When employers asked about criminal records on the job application, they called white applicants slightly more often than identical black applicants - but that small gap became more than four times larger, and statistically significant, after "ban the box" went into effect. (White applicants with criminal records benefited the most from the policy change - they're the ones who got a chance to prove themselves in an interview, though it's unclear if they would have gotten a job offer. Employers are still allowed to check criminal records before making a final offer, so applicants could be turned away at that point.) Because of the randomization, they can attribute this effect to the removal of criminal history information from job applications.

In a separate paper, Benjamin Hansen and I exploit the variation in adoption and timing of "ban the box" policies across the country to measure the policy's net effects on the employment outcomes of young, low-skilled men. We find that black and Hispanic men without college degrees are significantly less likely to be employed after "ban the box" than before. This result is not explained by pre-existing trends in employment, and persists for several years.

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