Criminal Record Questions on Job Applications as a Self-Selection Mechanism for Applying for Employment: Ohio State University

Michael Vuolo

[email protected]

Individuals with criminal records fare worse at obtaining employment compared to those with clean records. Experimental evidence shows that employers prefer those with clean records, and that persons of color with records are particularly discriminated against. While much is known about employer hiring preferences, little is known about whether applicants with criminal records avoid or prefer particular employers. In other words, individuals with criminal records may not even apply to certain positions due to perceived low odds of getting the job or because they fear being stigmatized by employers in the application process. Employment is one of the most critical bonds for preventing a return to crime. If individuals elect not to apply for certain positions, such choices will decrease the odds of forming this important bond. Understanding under what conditions individuals with records choose to apply for jobs is therefore central to efforts to help individuals reintegrate into society and prevent crime. <br/><br/> This research project will interview 140 individuals with criminal records recruited from criminal reentry organizations and halfway houses in the Columbus, OH metropolitan area. An interview guide and brief survey were developed through a pilot study completed in 2017. In-depth interviews will provide nuanced information regarding job search experiences and choices. The interviews query topics such as experiences with job searches both before and after having a criminal record, whether criminal records questions or background check statements on job applications prevent individuals from applying for positions, how forthcoming individuals are about their record in the application process, and what types of industries they seek out. The survey gathers complementary information on socio-demographics, criminal history, employment history, and personal difficulties in applying for jobs. Respondents will be re-interviewed six months later in order to understand whether new experiences in the labor market alter choices among those with records, whether this differs by background factors related to labor market outcomes such as race, and the underlying reasons for any changes in choices such as those related to stigma. This project directly addresses ongoing public policy debates regarding how best to provide individuals with criminal records a fair assessment in the job application process so that they can experience the benefits of the important social bond of employment, best epitomized by the Ban the Box movement (which seeks to eliminate criminal record questions from job applications). By moving the discussion from decisions of employers to those of applicants, these results may fundamentally change the way we think about and evaluate these policies.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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