Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

No Woman No Crime: Ban the Box, Employment, and Upskilling

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

No Woman No Crime: Ban the Box, Employment, and Upskilling

Article excerpt

A sizable number of localities have in recent years limited the use of criminal background checks in hiring decisions, or "banned the box." Using LEHD Origin-Destination Employment and American Community Survey data, we show that these bans increased employment of residents in high-crime neighborhoods by as much as 4%. These increases are particularly large in the public sector. At the same time, we establish using job postings data that employers respond to ban-the-box measures by raising experience requirements. A perhaps unintended consequence of this is that women, who are less likely to be convicted of crimes, see their employment opportunities reduced.

Large numbers of employers in the United States, if not most, include questions along the lines of "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" in employment applications, or ask applicants to check a box to indicate that they have been convicted of a crime. Efforts to remove such questions gained steam over the last few decades as increasingly large numbers of Americans saw their chances of gainful employment limited by the interplay of mass incarceration and employers' reluctance to hire convicts. In response, various jurisdictions, government agencies, and private-sector firms decided to eliminate questions about applicants' criminal background or to mandate that employers do so, i.e., to "ban the box."

Our goal in this paper is to study the effects of this latter response - bans on questions about criminal records (early on) in employee screening processes - on the labor market prospects of various affected groups and on the way in which employers respond to them. The mere recency of these bans means that research on their consequences has so far been quite limited. We exploit variation in whether and when cities, counties and states implemented them to identify their significance using LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) data on employment outcomes. We do this, mostly, with difference-in-difference and triple-difference estimators that compare different groups or locations within cities as these cities adopt bans at different points in time.

Our first central result is that these policies raise the employment of residents of the top quartile of high-crime neighborhoods by as much as 4%. This robust increase is in large part driven by residents getting hired into relatively high-income jobs (over $40,000 in annual wage income) and finding work in the public sector.

We then study a number of groups distinguished not by their place of residence, but by more permanent demographics. American Community Survey (ACS) Integrated Public Use Microdata Series data that allow us to tie outcomes to such individual characteristics indicate that women, who are less likely to have been convicted of crimes, see their labor market outcomes deteriorate, while low-skilled African Americans benefit. The most likely mechanism leading to worse employment outcomes from women is that employers raise their education and experience requirements in response to the elimination of questions concerning applicants' criminal records. We study this mechanism using data on online job postings, and find "upskilling" does indeed occur after the implementation of Ban the Box measures.

These results highlight both the importance of ban-the-box initiatives and some of their unintended consequences. In addition, this evidence runs counter to Holzer et al.'s (2006) finding that African Americans benefit from criminal background checks because they undermine a perceived necessity for statistical discrimination against them.

We proceed as follows. In the next section, we present background information on the role played by employee screening procedures and criminal records play in hiring processes, as well as the roll-out of the policies we study. We then turn to our theoretical framework and our empirical approach. The next two sections present our results, first for neighborhoods and then for different demographic groups, before we conclude. …

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