Research Summary: This study examines three central questions about criminal record inquiries on job applications, which is a rapidly developing area in criminology and public policy. We find the following: (1) Among the 78% of employers who ask about records, specific application questions vary greatly regarding the severity and timing of offenses. (2) Applications for restaurant positions are least likely to inquire about criminal histories, whereas racially diverse workplaces and establishments in the most and least advantaged neighborhoods are more likely to ask. (3) The race gap in employer callbacks is reduced when applicants have the chance to signal not having a record by answering “no,” which is consistent with theories of statistical discrimination. Policy Implications: We conclude with a call to develop standards and best practices regarding inquiries about juvenile offenses, low-level misdemeanor and traffic offenses, and the applicable time span. The need for such standards is made more apparent by the unevenness of criminal record questions across employees, establishments, and neighborhoods. We also suggest best practices for Ban the Box implementation to help combat potential statistical discrimination against African American men without records. Have you been convicted of a felony using your current name or any other name? If you do not answer this question, your application will not be considered. —Job application for laborer position at waste management company.
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