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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.


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