Liberalism Backfires Again, Chapter 14,279

One thing that is reliable about liberal policy ideas is that they will generate unintended consequences and perverse results, 95 out of 100 times. So of course one might have predicted that the move to “ban the box” asking about criminal convictions on employment application forms would result in increased racial discrimination. And now we have the social science to back up this common sense perception.

From the Quarterly Journal of Economics:

Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Racial Discrimination: A Field Experiment

Amanda Agan, Sonja Starr


“Ban-the-Box” (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among black men, who disproportionately have criminal records. However, withholding information about criminal records could risk encouraging racial discrimination: employers may make assumptions about criminality based on the applicant’s race. To investigate BTB’s effects, we sent approximately 15,000 online job applications on behalf of fictitious young male applicants to employers in New Jersey and New York City before and after the adoption of BTB policies. These applications varied whether the applicant had a distinctly black or distinctly white name and the felony conviction status of the applicant. We confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment: employers that asked about criminal records were 63% more likely to call applicants with no record. However, our results support the concern that BTB policies encourage racial discrimination: the black-white gap in callbacks grew dramatically at companies that removed the box after the policy went into effect. Before BTB, white applicants to employers with the box received 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants, but BTB increased this gap to 43%. We believe that the best interpretation of these results is that employers are relying on exaggerated impressions of real-world racial differences in felony conviction rates.

Charles Murray commented on Twitter: “Any policy analyst who would not instantly predict this unintended outcome should find a new career track.”

I’ll just add that I’m sure that this can all be fixed if we just increase the minimum wage to $25 an hour.

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