Study: “Ban the Box” Laws Actually Increase Racial Discrimination

Two years ago, California enacted a “Ban the Box” law, one of 20 states to have done so, as a way to stop the automatic exclusion of job seekers with criminal backgrounds. teen1

The idea was to aid some 7 million Californians – 1 in every 4 residents in the state – with criminal backgrounds from being discriminated against. A disproportionate number of those individuals with spotty records are minorities, and African Americans in particular. More than a dozen cities individually have adopted the measure, according tot he National Employment Law Project.

So, has it worked?

Actually, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Princeton University that while the policy may help those with criminal records have a better chance at finding employment, it also increases racial discrimination by employers. 


As Michigan Radio reported, study authors think it has to do with a phenomenon known as “statistical discrimination.” That is, employers want to know if their prospective hires have a criminal records. They are no longer entitled to that information. So what they do instead is lean on statistical proxies. That could mean they are delving into their own stereotypes and assumptions about who a criminal is and who is most likely to have a record.

How do the study authors know this is what’s happening?

They blasted out more than 15,000 fake job applications to companies in two metro areas both before and after the Ban the Box policies were enacted. Before the Ban the Box initiatives went into effect, white applicants – or those with white-sounding names – received callbacks about 7 percent more often. But after the initiatives were enacted, that gap widened to a whopping 45 percent.

Unfortunately, that was one of the fears expressed before the law went into place. Yes, it’s opening doors for some people who have criminal records – probably those who are not minorities – but it’s hurting those minority candidates with no criminal record and now way to signal to that to the potential employer.

Researchers say the study doesn’t say the policy should be scrapped entirely. There are clearly benefits to it. Perhaps those benefits are substantial enough to justify keeping the law. However, the effect it is having on black male applicants in particular – especially those without a criminal record – is deeply troubling.

The Ban the Box campaign started with good intentions by a national civil rights group called All of Us or None of Us. The group had identified that a huge barrier to successful reentry to society for convicts was discriminatory hiring and housing practices. They wanted employers to hire the person who was best for the job based on skills and qualifications, and not simply whether the person had prior criminal convictions.

On the one hand, blanket hiring bans do disproportionately negatively affect black and Latino workers. One could argue it’s also a violation of The Civil Rights Act. However, current policies apparently allow personal racial discrimination biases to seep through into the hiring process, which is also illegal.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

Study: “Ban the Box” laws increase employer racial discrimination, June 16, 2016, By Rebecca Kruth, Michigan Radio

More Blog Entries:

Green v. Brennan – U.S. Supreme Court Slams Racial Discrimination at Work, June 9, 2016, Orange County Racial Discrimination Lawyer Blog

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