In an effort to force employers to change, 26 state and 150 municipal legislatures have adopted “ban the box” legislation that removes declarations of criminal history from job-application forms.
On April 1st an executive order by Barack Obama's administration came into effect, banning the box for all federal jobs, amounting to 250,000 jobs a year.
Banning the box may, however, have unfortunate consequences.
Two American academics, Amanda Agan and Sonja Starr, have studied the effect of bans in New Jersey and New York.
Amanda Agan 和 Sonja Star两位美国学者研究了禁令在新泽西和纽约的效果。
They created dummy job applicants with typically black names like Jermaine and Malcolm, and tracked how employers responded to those beside dummy applicants with typically white names, such as Cody and Scott.
They found that whereas black men with invented criminal histories received more responses from companies after the change in the law, black men without criminal histories received fewer.
Presumably, some employers began to interpret black-sounding names as a signal of criminality.
Two things might, however, persuade employers to change their minds.
First, negligent-hiring lawsuits—in which a firm is sued for employing someone who commits a crime at work—are terrifying but rare.
Second, it is just possible that former convicts might be more productive than the other candidates who apply for a particular job.
Devah Pager, a sociologist at Harvard University, has tracked the performance of 8,000 formerfelons who entered the American army after passing a screening process in the years between 2002 and 2009.
She finds that the ex-cons were slightly more likely to be undisciplined but were also promoted unusually quickly.
Is that just a quirk of military culture?
It would be worth finding out.