Race and criminal history can influence the probability of returning citizens receiving a job interview.
One way to estimate the labor market effects of race and criminal history is through audit studies. For example, researchers might send coached applicants to employers with the intention that the applicants differ only by the variable of interest—in this case, race or criminal record. In one such study described in figure 11, possession of a criminal record is found to decrease the probability of being called back for an interview for both white and black applicants (Pager 2003). In fact, though, white applicants with a criminal record have a better chance of receiving a callback than do black applicants without a criminal record.
In a recent working paper Agan and Starr (2016) find that after a “Ban the Box” policy was implemented—in which criminal history information is withheld from employers until the end of the hiring process—the gap between callback rates for whites and blacks increased. This might suggest that employers engage in more racial discrimination when prevented from easily learning about an applicant’s criminal record status. Note, however, that efforts by public employers to make less use of criminal record information might have had positive effects, as documented by the National Employment Law Project (2016).
Work by Holzer, Raphael, and Stoll (2006) supports the idea that some employers use racial information as a stand-in for criminal history. They find that employers with access to criminal history information are more likely to hire black Americans, particularly black men. Interestingly, employers who conduct background checks are also more likely to hire from other stigmatized groups, such as those with extensive gaps in their prior work history. In the absence of criminal history information, employers are left to infer who has a criminal history using other, cruder signals, possibly resulting in discrimination by race.