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Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks, and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers*

Georgetown Public Policy InstituteUniversity of California, BerkeleyUniversity of California, Los Angeles

In this paper, we analyze the effect of employer‐initiated criminal background checks on the likelihood that employers hire African Americans. We find that employers who check criminal backgrounds are more likely to hire African American workers, especially men. This effect is stronger among those employers who report an aversion to hiring those with criminal records than among those who do not. We also find similar effects of employer aversion to ex‐offenders and their tendency to check backgrounds on their willingness to hire other stigmatized workers, such as those with gaps in their employment history. These results suggest that, in the absence of criminal background checks, some employers discriminate statistically against black men and/or those with weak employment records. Such discrimination appears to contribute substantially to observed employment and earnings gaps between white and black young men.