“Ban-the-box” laws have the best intentions – preventing employers from unfairly holding an applicant’s criminal history against them. However, a new study finds that they may have a far more negative result on hiring practices by significantly increasing racial bias.
A study was conducted by researchers at University of Michigan and Princeton University that finds when employers aren’t able to use criminal history as a determining factor of employment, they appear to lean on assumptions based on race. Primarily, the assumption that black applicants are less trustworthy and more likely to have a criminal background.
According to The Chicago Tribune, researchers sent out 15,000 fictitious applications with names commonly associated with different racial groups for entry-level job openings in the New York and New Jersey area, both before and after ban-the-box laws came into effect. Before the ban, white applicants received 7 percent more call backs. After the ban, the number soared to 45 percent.
This jump is likely based on “wildly exaggerated impressions of how much more likely black male applicants are to have criminal records,” said Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan who was co-author of the report with Amanda Agan, an economist at Princeton.
“It may be that seeing that someone has a clean record helps to dispel what might otherwise be an assumption, whether conscious or subconscious, by the employer about black applicants,” Starr continued.
According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), more than 26 states have adopted “ban-the-box” practices as early as 2010 with hopes of improving racial equality in hiring, including New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.
Starr insists that the study isn’t meant to challenge “ban-the-box” legislation, but to provide context into its implications on society and how it may not be a successful way of improving racial bias.
“Maybe a study like this will make Americans more aware that yes indeed there is race discrimination in employment,” said Margaret Stapleton, community justice director at the Sergeant Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. “Maybe it’s another piece of evidence in this debate that the country needs to be having about racism.”
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