The number of U.S. men with criminal records, particularly black men, grew rapidly in recent decades as the government pursued aggressive law enforcement strategies, especially against drug crimes, says the New York Times. Those men are having trouble finding work. Men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54, says a recent New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The reluctance of employers to hire people with criminal records, combined with laws that place broad categories of jobs off-limits, takes a toll on the economy by preventing millions of men from becoming productive members of society.
Employers have always taken an interest in the histories of prospective employees. Banks do not want to hire embezzlers; trucking companies do not want drunken drivers. Schools and security companies don't want criminals of any kind. The easy availability of online databases lets employers investigate everyone. Surveys show nine in 10 U.S. employers check databases of criminal records when hiring for at least some positions. Rising concern that background checks are being used to systematically exclude applicants with criminal records is fueling a “ban the box” movement to improve their chances. The name refers to the box that job applicants are sometimes required to check if they have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. Fourteen states and several dozen cities have passed laws that require employers to postpone background checks until the later stages of the hiring process.