“Ban the Box” Gets Boxed in Again

We reported here last year about research showing that a favorite Obama policy initiative known as “Ban the Box” (that is, prohibit employers from inquiring about a person’s criminal history on employment applications) was having the opposite effect, and was increasing discrimination against blacks. Two women economists writing in the Quarterly Journal of Economics concluded:

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.

Now comes a brand new paper, posted recently on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) that finds the same thing:

The unintended consequences of “ban the box”: Statistical discrimination and employment outcomes when criminal histories are hidden

Jennifer Doleac, Benjamin Hansen

Abstract

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted “ban the box” (BTB) policies preventing employers from asking about job applicants’ criminal records until late in the hiring process. Their goal is to improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment. However, removing criminal history information could increase statistical discrimination against demographic groups that include more ex-offenders. We use variation in the timing of BTB policies to test BTB’s effects on employment. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of employment by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men.

Liberal social policy is nothing if not consistent—consistent in delivering unintended consequences and perverse results.

Hat tip: Gail Heriot.

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