Devah Pager’s article in the latest American Journal of Sociology demonstrates an important relationship between race, criminal record and employment. She sent out pairs of black and white young men to apply for entry level jobs, gave them similar records except that one was randomly selected to have a criminal background. She then analyzed who was called back for an interview and got some interesting results:
1. Unsurprisingly, for both blacks and whites, reporting a criminal record drastically reduced the chances of a call back.
2. Black men *without* the criminal history were less likely to be called back than white men *with* criminal records.
3. Having a criminal record is more damaging for black applicants than for white applicants.
This, I think, is a nice challenge to the whole statistical discrimination thesis, where employers use race as a proxy for other unmeasured variables. The Pager study shows that even when employers have full information on their applicants, they often prefer a white ex-convict than a similar black man without a criminal record.
Update: Dmitri Masterov writes to tell me about point #2 – Pager showed that the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.