Who benefits from drug testing?

by on May 14, 2014 at 2:32 pm in Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

Black males, overall.  Abigail K. Wozniak has a new NBER paper on this topic:

Nearly half of U.S. employers test job applicants and workers for drugs. A common assumption is that the rise of drug testing must have had negative consequences for black employment. However, the rise of employer drug testing may have benefited African-Americans by enabling non-using blacks to prove their status to employers. I use variation in the timing and nature of drug testing regulation to identify the impacts of testing on black hiring. Black employment in the testing sector is suppressed in the absence of testing, a finding which is consistent with ex ante discrimination on the basis of drug use perceptions. Adoption of pro-testing legislation increases black employment in the testing sector by 7-30% and relative wages by 1.4-13.0%, with the largest shifts among low skilled black men. Results further suggest that employers substitute white women for blacks in the absence of testing.

There is an earlier ungated version here.

1 Bill May 14, 2014 at 2:54 pm

If we had or operated from the presumption of innocence, there would be no benefit to black males from drug testing. So, instead, you have to impose a cost of testing to eliminate the cost of prejudice or the weak presumption that works against the black male.

For some groups, there is no drug testing–players in the bands and singers–unless they are on probation.

2 Dan Weber May 14, 2014 at 3:29 pm

What does “presumption of innocence” mean in the context of applying for a job? That I get the job unless they can prove I can’t do it?

3 Andrew' May 14, 2014 at 3:38 pm

The assumptions that:
1. Race and drug use are not used for proxies for anything else.
2. Ceteris paribus. E.g. if drug testing eliminates all the white employees then blacks get the jobs.

4 keljopy May 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm

If you read the post it’s obvious “presumption of innocence” in this scenario means employers would assume a black man was not a drug user until proved otherwise.

5 Chris S May 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I disagree, at least in the no-testing regime.

Employers had no data about the drug use of their black prospective employees, so assumed that they were drug users at some positive rate.

Once they had the data, they could be sure that the given black prospect was not a drug user, so did not need to have an anti-black bias, using their racial status as a proxy for their drug-user status.

6 Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 4:45 pm

using their racial status as a proxy for their drug-user status.

Or are more likely to confuse characteristics of people’s speech with indicators of intoxication when the applicant is black. Different elocution, vocal timbre, &c.

7 Ryan May 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Unfortunately, biases do not go away simply because you want them to or because we all agree we should. I think it’s misleading to even think of this discrimination as a conscious thing, rather people have negative feelings towards an employee which is easily justified by attributing your negative feelings to the legitimate shortfalls of the employee in question without having to resort to the belief that the reason you don’t like John in H.R. is because you watched too many episodes of Law & Order and now associate black people with crime implicitly.

So yes, if we were all perfect human beings we would never have to adjust for systematic errors in judgment. But obviously that isn’t the case.

8 Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 4:54 pm

having to resort to the belief that the reason you don’t like John in H.R. is because you watched too many episodes of Law & Order and now associate black people with crime implicitly.

Not a big fan, but IIRC, the suspects on most iterations of the Law & Order franchise tend to be the sort of people in which television writers can interest themselves and inside of whose head they can put themselves – i.e. bourgeois types, generally caucasian. We can check, but I think when you see minority slum dwellers, the convention is that villains have to be balanced by characters of the same race who are sweet and admirable characters or misunderstood and in cleft sticks. I’m sure Mr. Sailer has a detailed index in a Lotus spreadsheet.

9 Michael May 14, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I actually went back recently and started watching the early seasons of Law and Order. They were made in a much different world, Dinkins era New York, with episodes on rape, crack, HIV and subway vigilantes. Contrast that with the L&O of the 2000s, most criminals are high-income white collar types and trustifarians. Absolutely fascinating study in the changes in culture (or rather, perception, of Manhattan/New York) over a relatively short timeframe, a real 180 degree turn. You are correct, but the show did get much more white with time.

10 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 5:29 pm

It took Dick Wolf time to figure out that the way to get big Nielsens for Law & Order was to non-satirically pander to what Tom Wolfe had satirized a few years earlier in “The Bonfire of the Vanities:” what Wolfe called “the hunt for the Great White Defendant.”

11 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 5:34 pm

From “Bonfire,” here’s part or Assistant D.A. Kramer’s internal monologue on why they’d love, for once, to get to prosecute somebody from Park Avenue:

“Every assistant D.A. in the Bronx, from the youngest Italian just out of St. John’s Law School to the oldest Irish bureau chief, who would be somebody like Bernie Fitzgibbon, who was forty-two, shared Captain Ahab’s mania for the Great White Defendant. For a start, it was not pleasant to go through life telling yourself, “What I do for a living is, I pack blacks and Latins off to jail.” Kramer had been raised as a liberal. In Jewish families like his, liberalism came with the Similac and the Mott’s apple juice and the Instamatic and Daddy’s grins in the evening. And even the Italians, like Ray Andriutti, and the Irish, like Jimmy Caughey, who were not exactly burdened with liberalism by their parents, couldn’t help but be affected by the mental atmosphere of the law schools, where, for one thing, there were so many Jewish faculty members. By the time you finished law school in the New York area, it was, well … impolite! … on the ordinary social level … to go around making jokes about the yoms. It wasn’t that it was morally wrong … It was that it was in bad taste. So it made the boys uneasy, this eternal prosecution of the blacks and Latins.

“Not that they weren’t guilty. One thing Kramer had learned within two weeks as an assistant D.A. in the Bronx was that 95 percent of the defendants who got as far as the indictment stage, perhaps 98 percent, were truly guilty. The caseload was so overwhelming, you didn’t waste time trying to bring the marginal cases forward, unless the press was on your back. They hauled in guilt by the ton, the blue-and-orange vans out there on Walton Avenue. But the poor bastards behind the wire mesh barely deserved the term criminal if by criminal you had in mind the romantic notion of someone who has a goal and seeks to achieve it through some desperate way outside the law. No, they were simple-minded incompetents, most of them, and they did unbelievably stupid, vile things.”


After Trayvon-Zimmerman and Donald Sterling and Duke Lacrosse and all the rest, shouldn’t it be obvious that “Bonfire” was the Great American Novel of the late 20th Century?

12 Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 6:37 pm

It took Dick Wolf time to figure out that the way to get big Nielsens for Law & Order was to non-satirically pander to what Tom Wolfe had satirized a few years earlier in “The Bonfire of the Vanities:” what Wolfe called “the hunt for the Great White Defendant.”

That may be, or maybe they just ran out of material. You see an episode of COPS (a program the cop in my circle of friends much enjoyed) and you get the impression that character development would be a real challenge after a while. Every once in a while I look in on one of the CSI franchise, a program I first saw about 10 or 12 years ago as I had a first degree relation who was engrossed. The plots seem to be getting more an more outlandish, and these are not plots that depend much on the properties of the person(s) of interest.

13 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Most real murders are committed by depressing and boring people.

I can recall reading in the newspaper in 1974 that the 7th Earl of Lucan, who had been considered to play James Bond in the movies, was wanted for questioning in connection with the murder of a family servant and an attack on his wife, but he had vanished, never to be seen again.


I thought at the time: Wow, that kind of thing happens all the time in Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories, but I haven’t seen it in the newspapers as much.

And 40 years later, I still haven’t seen it much outside of the movies and television.

14 dearieme May 14, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Yes, Lucan, presumably drunk, killed the woman he took to be his wife, but was in fact the nanny. I suspect he vanished by virtue of committing suicide and then being fed to the carnivores that a chum of his kept in his zoo.

15 So Much for Subtlety May 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Lord Lucan is alleged to have killed his nanny. He was never convicted.

And why would his mate feed his body to the lions? Britain is surrounded by water. The rumor I heard is that he threw himself into the sea.

As for Law and Order, Dick Wolf is not a prominent Republican. He lives, I assume, in New York. He would get a lot of flack at dinner parties if he concentrated on Black and Latino defendants all the time. So he needs to retain the good opinion of his peers by focusing on White criminals. Even though in New York they are rare. That way he wins awards and the like.

White Liberals often seem to me to be living in some sort of science fiction movie or Edgar Allen Poe novel. They cannot admit that they are disproportionately targeted because they are White. They cannot admit that there are people who hate them and are prepared to use violence against them. They know it, of course. They invest heavily in avoiding the sort of people who hate them, but you mustn’t mention it.

16 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Look at poor Yglesias, who was the victim of a Knockout Game racial hate crime by two blacks out Polar Bear Hunting when he was walking down the street on May 15, 2011.

He was the victim, but he has to go through life knowing he could lose his career if he carelessly refers to the incident in his writing without all the mandatory qualifiers and obfuscations.

17 So Much for Subtlety May 14, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 7:52 pm

He was the victim, but he has to go through life knowing he could lose his career if he carelessly refers to the incident in his writing without all the mandatory qualifiers and obfuscations.

Some people must believe the Narrative. I expect that the people at Vox are more or less of that persuasion. So it wouldn’t be hard for him. But if it isn’t, it is much worse than watching his writing. He has to keep his women on side too. Because as at least one Basketball team owner has found, even private comments can get you hounded these days. Although I suppose it isn’t that new – Earl Butz got fired for an off-the-record joke way back in the 70s. Admittedly his joke was much worse than anything said about Magic Johnson recently. So bad it is hard to find an American newspaper that has been willing to accurately quote it.

18 a May 14, 2014 at 10:39 pm

>> After Trayvon-Zimmerman and Donald Sterling and Duke Lacrosse and all the rest, shouldn’t it be obvious that “Bonfire” was the Great American Novel of the late 20th Century?

Man In Full was far better, but I guess I can see why you don’t like the novel that lapoons a Southern racist, hits a bit too close to home.

19 Ryan May 14, 2014 at 7:36 pm

I didn’t mean to make any political point about law & order. But it’s a lot of black people if you live in Iowa.

20 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm

But the show had a whole lot of white murderers if you live in New York City.

At the height of the various Law & Order franchises on TV, a reader once estimated that there were more fictional white New York murderers per year on L&O shows alone than there were per year in real life in all of NYC.

It’s the kind of thing that “National Lampoon” would have found pretty funny in the 1970s, but “The Onion” wouldn’t touch in the 2000s, unless they could figure out some meta way to make the joke be about white racism.

21 Ryan May 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Poor example. I see what was wrong with it. I don’t even watch the show, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes. In fact I don’t watch TV at all anymore, I just stick to my computer and books. I have no idea what people are watching these days, other than shows my brother sends me because he thinks I’ll like it and I never really care. I’ve seen Breaking Bad, the Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones. None of those have black people in it, so I went Law & Order, which even for a show with an unrealistically low number of black people on it, still has way more black people on it than any of the shows I am tangentially am exposed to.

22 Anon May 14, 2014 at 8:34 pm

TWD has large amounts of black people in it…

23 So Much for Subtlety May 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Breaking Bad is hardly short of Latino criminals. Even though it is shot in a city that is 3.3% Black and even though it deals with crystal meth – a very White Trash drug – it did have Black people.

There may be a reason why a show based on medieval Europe has few non-White people. Apart from the slaves for some strange reason. Although apparently you can’t make a film about Robin Hood these days without at least one Black character.

24 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 11:18 pm

It’s probably not an accident that the main characters in Breaking Bad are named Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.

25 jtf May 15, 2014 at 9:51 am

GoT has a bunch of black people in it, but a significant number appear to have been castrated…

26 Careless May 16, 2014 at 9:05 am

The L&O murder state is that it had more murders across franchises in one year than NYC had that year. Not just murders by whites.

27 Silas Barta May 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm

ROFL at the idea that employers nobly hold themselves to giving anyone a presumption in their favor when they have suspicions against it.

“Oh yeah, we totally don’t assume bad things about races we don’t like” … sure.

28 andrew' May 14, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I doubt this is it.

Employers don’t care if people use drugs.

What is the “testing sector”. Is there a law against plain language?

29 Noumenon May 15, 2014 at 1:55 am

The “testing sector” is the part of the economy that uses drug tests. If you don’t find it to be utterly plain language, at least you could recognize it as a technical term that he probably defines in the paper.

“Let firms be divided into the testing sector and the nontesting sector, so named because of the practices they will adopt when drug testing becomes available.”

30 robert May 14, 2014 at 8:31 pm

The presumption of innocence only applies inside the four walls of a courtroom and binds a jury to view a defendant in a particular way, i.e., as presumed innocent unless proven guilty. That’s it.

31 Ryan May 14, 2014 at 8:52 pm
32 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 3:18 pm

There is also evidence that blacks benefit from documentable active membership in respected church groups: I’ve seen a case study of a church in a poor part of New York that worked with mortgage lenders to identify congregants of strong character and they turned out to have lower default rates during the mortgage bust. (Of course, in turn, the lenders and employers have to figure out which black churches are in it for the long run and which are fly-by-night operations.)

33 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 1:11 am

You are always praising stereotypes. Isn’t this study an excellent demonstration of how stereotypes are often off base?

All those extra blacks hired after drug-testing started must have been out of jobs because recruiters assumed they must all be on drugs? Apparently not.

34 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm

There are a lot of example of where objective employment measures help minorities. For example, the federal government is always on the warpath against fire departments using objective tests to hire and promote firefighters. But in a similar elite blue collar type of job — being part of the set crew on Hollywood movies and TV shows — the demographics are still extraordinarily white for L.A. County in 2014 because they are who-you-know jobs with tight union restrictions, with membership often passed down within families. Likewise, the crews at Broadway shows and Carnegie Hall, who can make $400k per year, tend toward being giant Catholic extended families.

35 Michael May 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Its not just employment. I’ve read that the shift to objective credit scores dramatically helped minorities receive home mortgages too.

36 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Which in turn contributed to the mortgage disaster, because blacks and Latinos have higher default rates at given credit scores than Asians and whites.

37 Steve Sailer May 14, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Here’s Bayer and Ferreira:

“Among those with similar credit scores, black and Hispanic homeowners had much higher rates of delinquency and default in the downturn. These differences are not readily explained by the likelihood of receiving a subprime loan or by differential exposure to local shocks in the housing and labor market and are especially pronounced for loans originated near the peak of the boom. Our findings suggest that those black and Hispanic homeowners drawn into the market near the peak were especially vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and raise serious concerns about homeownership as a mechanism for reducing racial disparities in wealth.”


Old-fashioned down payment requirements were an objective way to get around the weaknesses of credit scores, but people like George W. Bush, Henry Cisneros, and Angelo Mozilo went to war against down payment requirements as racist in 2002-2004.

38 chuck martel May 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm

The most important form of drug testing should be directed at law enforcement. Holders of a position in law enforcement or the judiciary should be subject to 24/7 drug and alcohol testing and a positive test should end their careers. No law enforcement officer, having access to firearms and high-powered automobiles, should have drugs or alcohol in their system at any time. It’s complete hypocrisy that these “public servants” should be able to wander around shit-faced with loaded weapons.

39 Ricardo May 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm

That would mean about 90% of LEOs would lose their jobs… which, if you’re an anarcho-capitalist, is not a bad thing.

40 Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 4:56 pm

I’m sure it will do wonders for the quality of life in Morrisania to abolish the police.

41 Ryan May 14, 2014 at 4:17 pm

That’s absurd. Alcohol is legal, if you use it responsibly there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have a drink. If you drank on the job, that’d be one thing. But that kind of drug testing would be absurdly over-priced and make little difference. I don’t exactly recall any recent spates of local police injuring people because they were tripping hard on X and LSD.

42 Chris S May 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Chuck I read your comment as – those hypocrites who insist on perpetrating the drug war should be at the front of the line to drink their own kool aid. No?

43 Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 4:56 pm

What hypocrites? What gave you the idea that either legislatures or police forces are chock-a-bloc with drug users?

44 J1 May 14, 2014 at 6:16 pm

I believe police officers are subject to random testing; is anyone aware of a jurisdiction where they aren’t? I don’t know if they are subject to rules as strict as those applied to airline personnel (both a BAC limit and a time limit), but I’m pretty sure they have limits. I like the idea of requiring judges and attorneys, at least when they’re in court, to be tested for drugs or excessive BAC. Alcohol and drug testing is ubiquitous in the private sector, frequently (usually?) by law; the public sector shouldn’t be treated any differently.

45 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 1:05 am

What’s the equivalent of a judge or attorney’s scale in the private sector hierarchy? Yes testing is common, but mostly for truck drivers, operators, heavy equipment operators. Positions like that.

Are private firms random testing middle management yet?

46 Doug May 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm

This operates on a mistaken premise. Firearm accidents among trained users are extremely rare. Almost all firearm related deaths are from intentional shootings. A drunken man is much more dangerous on a roof (common place to drink for many people) than he is wielding an AK-47.

47 prior_approval May 14, 2014 at 11:29 pm

‘Firearm accidents among trained users are extremely rare.’

Like this? – ‘Salvatore J. Culosi Sr. still can’t believe his son, a 37-year-old optometrist, was a suspected sports bookie. He can’t believe a heavily armed SWAT team fatally shot his unarmed son, Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., outside his Fair Oaks home Tuesday night.

And Culosi can’t believe that the SWAT team’s sudden descent on his son, apparently causing one officer to accidentally fire a .45-caliber handgun once into his son’s chest, is standard procedure for Fairfax County police conducting a search.

“We are outraged that current police protocol would ever allow something like this to happen,” Culosi, 63, said last night. “The fact is that there was zero basis whatsoever for the officers involved to have any weapons drawn in this situation.”‘ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012602136.html

48 Jay May 15, 2014 at 11:59 am

Not sure you know what “rare” means.

49 Noumenon72 May 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Now that’s Freakonomics. Can’t believe how lazy they were finding stories for their book when there’s new stuff like this every week.

50 dearieme May 14, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Tee-total judges? Whatever next?

51 ezra abrams May 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

jeez, can’t anyone talk in plain anglo saxon english: most employers are racist, and will hire blacks only if they are “good” blacks

52 So Much for Subtlety May 14, 2014 at 9:14 pm

You don’t think that maybe drug use may impact job performance? That a disregard for laws in one area may not be unconnected with a disregard for laws in other areas – some of which may be very important to an employer?

You know, I hope this is a troll, but how long do you think it would take me to find some small businessman who has had his motel or restaurant seized by the Feds because an employee, without the employer knowing, used or sold drugs therein?

53 andrew' May 15, 2014 at 10:08 am

We are getting warmer.

54 derek May 14, 2014 at 10:45 pm

So you do testing and hire the black guy. Obviously sexist because the white woman doesn’t get the job.

Life must be so easy when you can slot everything into one box.

55 ezra abrams May 14, 2014 at 9:27 pm

A, I don’t think it is fair to use a paywalled paper
B, I did find this
and I wish to register a COMPLAINT:
why, in these econ papers, do we never see a simple plot of *raw* data ?
All we see are regression coefficients, or other massaged points
At the very least, why does your profession not require an excel or txt (portable formats) with raw data to accompnay each paper ?
I just don’t get it

56 Finch May 15, 2014 at 11:38 am

Why doesn’t the software business generally publish source code?

Because, although each publication would be more useful to many, there would be fewer incentives to create if you can’t keep anything proprietary.

Same thing in academia. Building a dataset is often the hardest part of the research. The math is something any smart high-schooler can do. The dataset may be used to generate multiple papers in the future. Requiring it be given away reduces the incentive to develop it in the first place.

And as with open source in software, sometimes the dataset is given away, when that’s important to some goal of the developers.

57 Ken May 14, 2014 at 10:29 pm
58 Sebastian H May 14, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Buried the lede? We discriminate against blacks ferociously, but if we drug test them we discriminate somewhat less?

59 derek May 14, 2014 at 10:52 pm

That is a given. Every mixed society is characterized by groups discriminating against others who are not the same as them. That is human nature.

So what do you do about it? Call people names, make it easier to set up in some foreign country than navigate the legal/regulatory regime that hasn’t succeeded in making much of a dent in the problem?

How about something simple. If the prejudice is that a group has drug issues, a prejudice based on reality for the group, not individuals, then test. You then find the ones who are not on drugs. Would work in some areas where whites are reputed to have drug issues as well.

60 Rahul May 15, 2014 at 1:18 am

The solution is test. Don’t base decisions on suspicions & biases.

61 Andrew' May 15, 2014 at 5:41 am

The solution may be legal reform where groups of people (firms) aren’t held legally liable for individuals who secretly break rules.

This isn’t racism. They will hire blacks who pass drug tests. That isn’t racism. It is barely discrimination. It is compulsive racial inference. But that don’t sell papers.

62 Donald Pretari May 15, 2014 at 11:12 am

It took Dick Wolf time to figure out that the way to get big Nielsens for Law & Order was to non-satirically pander to what Tom Wolfe had satirized a few years earlier in “The Bonfire of the Vanities:” what Wolfe called “the hunt for the Great White Defendant.”

How’s that working out in real life, Steve? In this country, outside of fantasy, the “the hunt for the Great White Defendant” leads to “the capture of the Low-Rung White Defendant,” or, maybe, “the insignificant fine of the Great White Corporation.” TV is where we go to find actual justice. Can’t we have even that mere scrap without being mocked?

63 albatross May 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I think in general a representative sampling of serious crime is not going to be fun or interesting, so much as sad and disturbing. TV wants fun and interesting, which means well-dressed clever criminals and cops, complicated and interesting plots, etc. More generally, pretty much *everything* on TV has the same property.

64 andrew' May 15, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Didn’t those shows reference news stories which in turn follow a man bites dog template?

65 Careless May 16, 2014 at 9:18 am

Yes. Of course, they sometimes whitewashed the characters

66 Nathan W May 16, 2014 at 1:50 pm

While “clean” black men may benefit, given social realities, would this not simply serve as an expansion of the generally racist nature of policies which variously attack those associated with drugs which have been classified as illicit?

What about black men born between 1970-74, 60+% of whom have spent time behind bars? Will random drug testing help them ever get a chance?

67 Mariah May 22, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Although this is a way to eliminate prospective employees, it doesn’t mean that every employee is using drugs. The use of drugs should not have any say in their eligibility when being tied to race. In the book, Beyond Zero Tolerance, Dr. Rodney Skager, a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, states that, “Drug testing fails to reach an employee’s key attitudes and beliefs. Instead, we should spend our scarce resources educating people through comprehensive, interactive, and honest drug education.” In regards to the differences in race, it is sad that a black males opportunity is solely based on testing. Without the test, there is no opportunity. Both of these have no reflection of their qualifications unless we are to assume the black male and white woman are equally qualified. Here is discrimination at its best.

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