in which third-party intermediaries might provide information that convinces employers to hire
offenders who otherwise might be turned away because they have any kind of record.
B. Employers’ Use of Criminal Background Checks
Criminal background checks are one mechanism through which employers’ access
information about the criminal histories of applicants. Such checks are also an alternative
indirect manner of gauging employer aversion to applicants with criminal histories. Figure 5
presents the distribution of employer responses to the question concerning the frequency with
which employer check the criminal background of job applicants. In addition, we present the
distribution of these responses to the exact question asked in the earlier employer survey data
collected in Los Angeles in 1992-1994. The earlier survey likely collected data on this question
before the emergence of internet services which provide low-cost criminal background checks.15
The results show that criminal background checks have risen substantially over the
1990s, perhaps because of the decreasing cost and easier access of doing such checks through the
internet. The employer data for 1992 to 1994 shows that approximately 32 percent of employers
in the sample say that they always check, 17 percent indicate that they check sometimes, while
51 percent say the never check. By 2001, approximately 44 percent of employers in the sample
say that they always check, 18 percent indicate that they check sometimes, while 38 percent say
they never check.
In light of these findings, an important set of questions includes whether this increase in
checking over the 1990s was experienced equally across different firms, and which
establishments drove most of this increase in checking. Table 2 shows the percentage of firms
that indicate that they always checked in both 1992 to 94 and 2001, and the raw percentage-point
15 For instance, companies, such as Pinkerton Security Services, provide criminal background checking services for as little as $15.