A Potential Problem with “Ban the Box” Laws

On the Foundation for Economic Education website, Professor Alex Tabarrok explains that a potential problem with “Ban the Box” laws is that such laws actually significantly increase racial discrimination in employment rather than decrease it; Professor Tabarrok summarizes the findings and critiques the suggestions from a lengthy new paper that examines how employers in New York and New Jersey responded to 15,000 fake job applications.
From the article:

“Ban the box” policies forbid employers from asking about a criminal record on a job application. Ban the box policies don’t forbid employers from running criminal background checks — they only forbid employers from asking about criminal history at the application/interview stage. The policies are supposed to give people with a criminal background a better shot at a job. Since blacks are more likely to have a criminal history than whites, the policies are supposed to especially increase black employment.

One potential problem with these laws is that employers may adjust their behavior in response. In particular, since blacks are more likely than whites to have a criminal history, a simple (if imperfect) substitute for not interviewing people who have a criminal history is to not interview blacks. Employers can’t ask about race on a job application, but black and white names are distinctive enough so that based on name alone, employers can guess with a high probability of being correct whether an applicant is black or white.