Criminal Record Does Matter

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A Criminal Record Does Matter
April 11, 2013
Sociology 381

In the article, Mark of a Criminal Record by Devah Pager, the effect that a criminal record has on black and white males is examined. Pager's goal is to answer whether and to what extent employers use criminal history, whether race plays a role in hiring, and whether there are different results for black applicants than for white applicants when applying for a job. In order to conduct this research Pager uses Audit Methodology.

The basic design of this study was to create four different resumes for four different people (testers). Each tester was an articulate college student who took on one of two roles when applying for a job: an ex convict or someone with no criminal history. Each resume had the same level of qualifications for education and job experience. The two black testers were paired together and the two white testers were paired together. Each tester had one resume and the only difference between the resumes within each group was that one had served prison time for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

The first objective of the study was to find out whether and to what extent employers use information about criminal history in making hiring decisions. This was important because in the sample taken by Pager (2003), 27% of employers said they would perform background checks on all applicants. However, the actual number was most likely higher because employers were not required to indicate whether or not they intended to perform background checks (Pager, 2003, p. 953). And although not all employers actually do this, it still implied that, to some degree, a criminal history will affect job opportunities. One criticism to this type of research was that employers use other characteristics to determine whether or not the applicant will be hired and not the criminal record. This says that the same characteristics that make a person resort to crime happen to overlap with characteristics that make a person an undesirable employee. This objective and study was designed to find out how true that is. It has been found that a criminal record plays a significant role during the hiring process. A criminal record reduced the likelihood of a call back by 50%. 34% of whites without a criminal record received a callback compared to 17% of whites with a criminal background. For one tedious job application for a trucking service, one applicant was told that the job had been filled after the employer reviewed the application. Keep in mind, though, that the applicant had to check with the supervisor several different times during the application process in order to complete the application.

The second objective was to find out the extent to which race continues to serve as a major barrier to employment. This is important because racial inequality is a prevalent issue that has been heavily debated in regards to job opportunities. African Americans have lower rates of employment compared to whites. There is disagreement over the cause of these discriminations. This method of testing is designed to address this question. Recent studies have doubted the importance of race when it comes to the job hiring process. Some recent arguments have stated that other factors such as spatial location, soft skills, social capital, and cognitive ability are to blame rather than race. This study compares equally qualified black and white applicants who apply for the same job and the frequency each one received call backs. One surprising finding is that out of the black applicants without criminal records, only 14% were called back compared to 34% of white applicants without criminal history. What really makes the results of this audit so surprising is that whites with criminal backgrounds were called back more than blacks without a criminal background at 17% of the time. Blacks with criminal history were only a little less likely to be called back than their noncriminal...
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