Our earlier work using data from the early 1990s on employer demand for ex-offenders
documents the correlates of employer willingness to hire ex-offenders, criminal screening
practices, and the impacts of these factors on racial hiring outcomes (Holzer, Raphael, and Stoll
forthcoming, 2002a, and 2002b).3 This research demonstrates that employer willingness to hire ex-
offenders is very limited, even relative to other groups of disadvantaged workers (such as welfare
recipients and the long term unemployed), but varies with particular establishment and job
characteristics. Employers act on this aversion to ex-offenders by reviewing the criminal history
records of applicants, or in the absence of a formal background checks, by statistically discriminating
against those perceived to be ex-offenders (Holzer, et. al., 2002a and 2002b).
While instructive, this research leaves many unanswered questions. For instance, does
self-reported employer willingness to hire ex-offenders correlate with their actual hiring behavior
or vary with the characteristics of ex-offenders or the type of offense with which they were
charged? Has the use of criminal background checking increased over the 1990s, particularly
since the cost of checking has decreased? If so, which kinds of firms are associated with the
greatest growth in checking? Finally, a number of other questions about criminal background
checks remain such as to what extent are employers legally required to check, by which method
and when do they check, and which firm and job level characteristics are associated with this
checking. The implications of the answers to these questions for labor market opportunities for
ex-offenders and public policy need to be discussed as well.
This paper investigates these and other related questions using a recent survey of
employers in Los Angeles. Our investigation into these questions will complement earlier and
related work using data from the early 1990s. This research attempts to characterize the labor
3 A limited number of questions on willingness to hire ex-offenders have also been included in other employer surveys that we administered in the late 1990’s. See, for instance, Holzer and Stoll (2001).