Do "Ban the Box" Laws Work?

Jurisdictions across the country have enacted legislation "banning the box" on employment applications which inquires about criminal conviction history. The laws are intended to provide applicants with criminal convictions a fair chance at employment, but some are starting to ask, are they having the intended effect?

Many employers who ask this question on their application will not even call applicants who have checked that box. This appears to disproportionately effect minorities, who are more commonly convicted than their white counterparts. 

In most cases, companies are still allowed to ask about conviction history, but the question cannot be posed on the application at the beginning of the process. The idea is that this allows a company to get to know, like and respect a person before knowledge of a conviction can change their mind.

Amanda Agan and Sonja Starr of the University of Michigan ran a experiment by sending out 15,000 fictitious employment applications to companies in New Jersey and New York City, shortly after each had passed a ban the box law. The only differences between the applications where the names. In some cases, a stereotypically "white" name was sent (i.e. Scott or Cody), and others had stereotypically "black" names (i.e. Torrell or Darnell). 

Their discoveries where surprising. They found that companies seemed to fall back on former stereotypes, that blacks are more likely to be associated with crime, and were rejected more often than white applicants. Further, that the racial gap in callbacks before the laws were inacted was 7 percent. After the laws passed, it went up to an astounding 45 percent.



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