Due to the popularity of the “ban the box” (BTB) laws, we have decided to analyze if the philosophy behind the movement is actually working, and if applicants with a past criminal history are actually being employed. The “ban the box” laws are alive and breathing in over 150 cities and counties, spreading across 28 states. In part, the “ban the box” laws seek to remove barriers to employment by eliminating the box on the application inquiring about previous criminal activity.
In June 2016, a study was conducted by economists Amanda Agan and Sonja Starr to review the callback rates of employers to job applicants of different racial backgrounds in New Jersey and New York City before and after the “ban the box” laws. Agan and Starr sent out 15,000 fictitious online employment applications in those areas with racially stereotypical names on the applications. Prior to the “ban the box” laws in New Jersey and New York City, the gap in the callback rate for job applicants who were Caucasian was 7% more than the callback rate for African-American applicants. After the “ban the box” laws were passed, the callback rate for Caucasian job applicants had jumped up to 45%.
Another study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) observed a sharp decline in the employment opportunity for young, non-college educated minorities in areas where “ban the box” laws were passed. The NBER’s study explained that their goal was to “improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment.” They later learned that withholding job applicants’ criminal history information would result in subjecting employers to playing a guessing game of which applicants were ex-offenders and which were not. This ultimately worsened employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
The results of both surveys proved for the current “ban the box” laws to hinder employment outcomes for minorities with a criminal past more than they assisted them in gaining jobs.