A Los Angeles City Council committee voted Tuesday to prohibit most employers in the city from asking about a job applicant's criminal history until after a conditional offer has been made. State and local governments in California are already prevented from asking whether a person has ever been convicted of a crime until an initial offer of employment has been made. President Obama announced in November that the federal government and its contractors would also stop asking about job applicants' criminal histories in the preliminary stages of the interview process. The City Council's Economic Development Committee voted 4-0 to extend that law to businesses with 10 or more employees, as well as to city contractors and subcontractors. "It's designed to give someone a fair chance," said Councilman Curren Price, the committee chairman.
We develop tools for utilizing correspondence experiments to detect illegal discrimination by individual employers. Employers violate US employment law if their propensity to contact applicants depends on protected characteristics such as race or sex. We establish identification of higher moments of the causal effects of protected characteristics on callback rates as a function of the number of fictitious applications sent to each job ad. These moments are used to bound the fraction of jobs that illegally discriminate. Applying our results to three experimental datasets, we find evidence of significant employer heterogeneity in discriminatory behavior, with the standard deviation of gaps in job-specific callback probabilities across protected groups averaging roughly twice the mean gap. In a recent experiment manipulating racially distinctive names, we estimate that at least 85% of jobs that contact both of two white applications and neither of two black applications are engaged in illegal discrimination. To assess the tradeoff between type I and II errors presented by these patterns, we consider the performance of a series of decision rules for investigating suspicious callback behavior under a simple two-type model that rationalizes the experimental data. Though, in our preferred specification, only 17% of employers are estimated to discriminate on the basis of race, we find that an experiment sending 10 applications to each job would enable accurate detection of 7-10% of discriminators while falsely accusing fewer than 0.2% of non-discriminators. A minimax decision rule acknowledging partial identification of the joint distribution of callback rates yields higher error rates but more investigations than our baseline two-type model. Our results suggest illegal labor market discrimination can be reliably monitored with relatively small modifications to existing audit designs.
When Lily Gonzalez was released from Valley State Prison in Chowchilla in 2012, all she wanted to do was put incarceration behind her. She hoped to go back to work, continue her education at Cal State Northridge and reconnect with her 11-year-old daughter. "I tried to assimilate," she said. Gonzalez had been convicted of multiple felonies for falsifying signatures on documents -- "something stupid I did when I was 18 years old," she said. Instead of returning to her old life, including a job with the county's Department of Consumer Affairs, Gonzalez found herself stuck.
Eric Garcetti has recruited 32 other mayors across the country to join him in urging college admissions companies to stop asking applicants about their criminal histories. In a letter, the mayors petitioned the Common Application Association and Universal College Application -- two companies whose standard applications are used by many private universities -- "to remove any box that inquires into a person's past criminal history from your admissions applications." Garcetti joins other advocates and the federal government in making the case that the mere inquiry about criminal history can scare an applicant away. "Any box that inquires into criminal history has a strong chilling effect on applications in general," said Kimberley Guillemet, manager of The Los Angeles Mayor's Office of Reentry. "We know that when people see any box asking about their criminal background, a lot of them assume that they won't have a chance to be admitted on their merits and they won't pursue the process."
The Obama administration is issuing a proposed rule that would prohibit federal agencies from asking certain job applicants questions about criminal and credit history until a conditional offer of employment has been made. The proposed rule would cover jobs in which applicants must compete with others in an open competition. It won't apply to many of the positions dealing with national security, intelligence and law enforcement. The president has already directed the government's personnel office to wait until later in the hiring process to ask about criminal histories. The proposed rule would formalize that process.