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that are closer to ex-offender populations (or that receive a greater number of applications from

ex-offenders) are more likely to run background checks (Holzer et. al., forthcoming).

Table 3 also shows the averages of these establishment characteristics stratified by

whether employers were legally required to check. Here, we find somewhat similar patterns to

those we found for the frequency of checking. Establishments that are larger, not-for-profit, in

service industries, have no unskilled jobs, as well as those that have collective bargaining

agreements and higher percentages of black applicants are overrepresented among those that are

legally required to check. On the other hand, manufacturing, construction, smaller, and

minority-owned firms, as well as firms with a large fraction of unskilled jobs are

underrepresented amongst firms that are legally required to check.

Taken together, these results suggest that the greater propensity of firms that always

check (e.g., large and service firms) is in large part prompted by the legal requirement to do so.

Given the very widespread legal barriers to employment in many occupations that occur in most

states, it is perhaps not surprising that legal requirements drive a great deal of employer behavior

in this regard. But these findings also suggest that the laws that prevent employers from hiring

offenders might need to be reviewed, in light of the strong negative effects they appear to have

on the ability of ex-offenders to gain employment.

The substantial increase in the proportion of establishments that always check the

criminal histories of applicants over the 1990s, as shown in Figure 5, also suggests that the

availability of low-cost checking services in the private market may be in part driving this

increase. Although we do not have data in both 1992 to 94 on the method by which employers

check backgrounds to fully explore these factors, our 2001 survey does ask this question. Figure

7 shows the method by which employers check criminal histories stratified by their responses to


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