by James A. Bacon
Last year Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order to “ban the box” prohibiting employers from asking job seekers about their criminal history at the initial job stage. The goal was to “remove unnecessary obstacles” to felons seeking employment after incarceration. How could one object? Once felons have paid their debt to society, we should ease their transition back into the workforce, right?
It turns out that things don’t always work the way we expect them to. From the Daily Progress:
Research published recently by Jennifer Doleac, an assistant professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that ban the box policies actually lowered the probability of employment by 5.1 percent for young, low-skilled black men and 2.9 percent for young, low-skilled Hispanic men.
According to Doleac, who conducted the study with the University of Oregon’s Benjamin Hansen, the lowered chance for employment comes from the unwillingness by employers to take chances on hiring someone without knowledge of their potential criminal history.
“Simply taking away information about whether someone has a record doesn’t stop employers from caring about someone’s criminal background,” Doleac said. “It just leaves them to guess based on the remaining information they do have.”
All too often, that “remaining information” is age, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. (Hat tip: John Butcher)
Bacon’s bottom line: Society is extraordinarily complex. Political ideologies (both on the left and the right) provide simplified models for how society works. Often those simplified models overlook important linkages and feedback loops that lead to very different results than anticipated. Individuals and private entities can quickly alter their behavior to adjust to reality; government adjusts much more slowly, if at all.
Will McAuliffe rescind his “ban the box” order? I’m not betting on it. The social engineer’s response to problems created by a law or regulation is to “fix” the emergent problem by enacting more laws and regulations… thus creating new problems.
It’s fine to try new ideas, but we have to pay attention to whether they work or not. If they don’t, we need to reconsider them. Good intentions are not enough.