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Study: More Employers Willing to Ignore Criminal Records in Hiring


Nearly 40 percent employers in a recent survey said they were willing to hire individuals with a nonviolent criminal record—and the number rose to over 50 percent with a guarantee of “safety insurance,” according to the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

In the survey, conducted by Zoe Cullen, a professor at Harvard Business School, Will Dobbie, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Mitchell Hoffman, a professor at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, some 1,000 businesses were asked if their hiring managers would employ applicants with criminal records given various insurances, like crime and safety insurance.

Some 39 percent of respondents said they would hire applicants without insurance, swelling to 45 percent for jobs without customer interactions and 51 percent for individuals handling non-valuable inventories.

The tally reaches 68 percent for a business struggling to find a hire or if the applicant works as an independent contractor.

The results indicated an encouraging trend in helping returning citizens reintegrate into civilian life.

To mitigate the barriers a criminal record places on employment, 35 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted “Ban the Box” policies, where job applicants with arrest and conviction records do not need to notify employers of their prior offenses.

The study shows that with some added incentives or assurances, businesses were more likely to hire applicants with criminal records.

The study found that when offered at least a modest level of crime and safety insurance, the number of employers willing to employ an applicant with an arrest record rises by at least 10 percent.

Additionally, applicants who completed at least one previous job gained an additional 11 percentage points. When the applicant went without a conviction or arrest in the past year, the percentage rose 21 points.

Despite the findings, the demand for workers with prior arrests or convictions remained the lowest for violent crime offenders.

According to the study, 51 percent of businesses were willing to work with someone formerly charged with a misdemeanor drug offense. In comparison, only 10 percent said they would employ individuals previously charged with a violent misdemeanor.

Those with a violent felony charge on their records were the least attractive to the businesses. Only 6 percent of those surveyed said they would hire an applicant with prior violent felony charges.

To date, the study found that because of high work demand and policy changes, over 12,000 jobs were made available to individuals with prior offenses through August 2021.

It is unclear what other changes might be underway, such as eliminating criminal background checks.

The full report can be downloaded here

Zoe Cullen is a professor at Harvard Business School and National Bureau of Economic Research affiliate.

Will Dobbie is a professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Mitchell Hoffman is a professor at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management

James Van Bramer is associate editor at The Crime Report

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