One of the various progressive movements out there is so-called “ban the box” regulation. This prohibits employers from asking if an applicant has been convicted of a crime during some portion of the initial stages of the hiring process. The name seems to refer to the boxes on job applications that ask if someone has ever been convicted of a crime. Los Angeles is the latest city to contemplate joining in.
I personally don’t support ban the box as a regulation, because imposing this by fiat is unlikely to actually change employer hiring practices and only sends yet another message about the attitude towards regulating business, which California and Los Angeles does way too much of.
But the sentiment behind ban the box I support. There are millions of people who have been convicted of crimes in America. They’ve paid their dues in the legal system and are now trying to rebuild their lives. Isn’t getting a job exactly what we want for them? Isn’t the best way to avoid future crime to have the dignity of supporting yourself with a job? We should be doing everything in our power to help these folks get back into the work world. How are they supposed to find a job if no one will actually give them an interview because of a criminal conviction?
It’s not just criminals. There are now millions more people who have been unemployed for an extended period of time (over a year). Some of them have dropped out the labor force entirely they are so discouraged. The consequences of long term joblessness are horrible, as Ed Glaeser recently pointed out. One you have a major gap in your resume it likewise becomes nearly impossible to get an interview for other than a menial position. Employers simply won’t talk to you.
During the Great Recession American businesses took advantage of their increased leverage to demand perfect candidates. Corporations and startups have become prima donnas of hiring, demanding the exact skills and experience they want show up at their door, along with a pristine resume, and the right aesthetics and coolness factor (excuse me, “cultural fit”). If they don’t get it, they moan about a “developer drought” or how they can’t find decent employees.
These companies have become penny-wise and pound foolish. Today they only care about short term profits in the now. With untold millions of unemployed, underemployed, and out of the labor force Americans of prime working age, these firms would be well-served to change their approach and start making a broader effort to give people a chance to get their foot back into the working world.
When this sort of structural unemployment is high, the social contract broadly construed says it’s something we all should care about and want to do something about. If American business decides they won’t, ban the box regulation is likely to be among the least of the consequences the discipline of the political marketplace ends up imposing on them.