Banning credit checks harms African-Americans

But a new study from Robert Clifford, an economist at the Boston Fed, and Daniel Shoag, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, finds that when employers are prohibited from looking into people’s financial history, something perverse happens: African-Americans become more likely to be unemployed relative to others.

…What’s surprising is how that redistribution happened. In states that passed credit-check bans, it  became easier for people with bad credit histories to compete for employment. But disproportionately, they seem to have elbowed aside black job-seekers.

I can’t say that mechanism makes me feel better about the world, but there you go. Consider this:

A powerful study published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics shows something of the opposite happening: When employers began to require drug tests for job applicants, they started hiring more African-Americans.

“The likely explanation for these findings is that prior to drug testing, employers overestimated African-Americans’ drug use relative to whites,” the study’s author explained in an op-ed. Drug tests allowed black job applicants to disprove the incorrect perception that they were addicts.

It’s possible that credit checks were playing a similar role to drug tests, offering a counterbalance to inherent biases or assumptions about black job-seekers.

Here is the Jeff Guo Wonkblog piece, here is one version of the original study.  Here is related earlier work by Daniel Klein.


I'm sure that the SJWs will start demanding that these checks be reintroduced to promote black employment.

Interesting - so the way to beat racism in America is to increase measures considered a gross violation of a citizen's freedom more than a generation ago.

Meaning that measures familiar from a jail setting or being involved in the banking/securities industry are the best things to replace affirmative action. Which just happens to coincidentally be part of the business revenue that the data collection/drug testing already has so successfully developed for themselves.

Or people could just be less racist. That will be easy ...

Violation of citizen freedom? When people drive 40+ ton trucks or works with machines that can cut you in half, drug tests make a lot of sense. Once I visited a factory where the protocol was breathalyzer test for every person entering the property. To avoid conflicts, even white collars had to take the breathalyzer test.....equality =). But everyone knew the test was aimed at forklift drivers, metal workers, people working in height places, etc.

It might be a violation of the ideal of liberty but, industrial accidents are minimized. Choose one.

I'm pretty open to specific argumentation about specific professions, etc. The example of diriving 40+ ton trucks definitely passes the smell test, however, I imagine that if drunk driving among truckers were very relevant then we'd already have laws requiring an internal breathalizer to start up the vehicle.

As a matter of general practice with industrial machinery? Let's make the case one job type and one substance at a time. The case should be persuasive, not based on extensive hypothesizing, requiring much imagination or being subject to various biases. Alcohol and big machines don't mix.

Breathalizers on the way into a factors seem pretty fair to me. There is 100% control over the decision (ignoring that some people struggle with alcohol and are less in control of it than others), and absolutely, I know what no small share of the working class can be like in this sense - many drunks cannot get themselves together enough to, say, get a higher education or training for high-level jobs, but have good prospects for getting hired in a lot of other jobs. Coming to work drunk (and yes, even drinking on the job) is rampant in many trades, and there is a clear safety imperative. Yeah, and F off with the temptation for some to paint it as a hateful and elitest view and how I hate the working class or some bullshit like that, which would come if I didn't pre-defend myself against the claim. If you don't know this is true, then you know nothing about this subject, so just don't say anything.

Not at all like barring people from employment for things they do on their own time and which have precisely zero impact on their ability to safely and competently do their job. Like, why does it matter if a lawyer or banker smokes weed or even does cocaine on the weekend? Heck, who even cares if police officers (whose unions, by the way, would never see them subject to such scrutiny) or spies do that on their own time? Or an industrial worker for that matter. Or anyone?

The case needs to be persuasive, and the connection between the substance and performance/safety should be basically immune to argumentation whcih places the needs for such intrusions into doubt.

In many Canadian jurisdictions the employer is responsible for the safety of the workers and if due diligence is not followed could be criminally liable. There was a case a few years ago at a saw mill where something jammed, they called the millwright who happened to be at a bar, he came to the site and killed himself by doing something very dumb.

There is already a hazard scale that determines the lengths you can go to ensure safe conditions. It is enforced procedure for logging crews that the foreman has to talk to each worker, determine and log their awareness and lucidity, and if they aren't, they don't work.

Which ultimately means that it is far easier, cheaper and less risky to move your operation to Mexico.

That sounds like a hell of a lot of arguing. Couldn't we just say "employers are free to require employees to submit to testing"? I really don't get why they shouldn't be allowed to.

Cliff - can I test people for caffeine and ban them from the list of workers considered, out of concerns relating to caffeine addiction?

How about banning people with high blood sugar levels, out of concern that they get moody?

Or perhaps I might like to ban people who do any old thing that I disagree with.

How about they have to make a persuasive case for why it matters for performance or safety?

Well, perhaps drug taking blacks are less likely to be even looking for a job? Or those with bad credit? Relative to whites who, as drug addicts or non-payers of credit keep acting like they have no problem.
>>employers overestimated African-Americans’ drug use relative to whites << YES, for those seeking jobs.

Probably something here. African Americans know they have to keep their nose clean, so to speak, to have any shot at succeeding in most kinds of jobs, so perhaps this finding shouldn't be so surprising to us.

Or, more often, unconscious bias. But, yeah, you're on the right track.

Isn't the answer even simpler? Drug taking blacks are less likely to apply when they know that testing might occur. And surely word gets around after the first few tests.

Why would one ethnicity have a better information transfer system than another? Wouldn't the same mechanism apply to all job seekers?

I don't see the logic behind the conclusion that is drawn. It could very well be that more black people do drugs (inconclusive, no real evidence for this) and have lower credit scores (yes this is true). If 5% of non-blacks do drugs or have low credit scores and 15% of blacks do, that's going to result in significant statistical discrimination against blacks. Once you take out all the drug-doers and low credit scores, rational discrimination against blacks should be much lower and hiring may increase, even though more blacks are ruled out than others.

Perhaps the checks merely decrease the esteem of majority-race candidates.

Esteem of majority race = white privilege

And I thought it was their skin color! Oops.

Indeed. The white privilege of a low paying menial job.


And thus we shouldn't ban credit checks but perhaps should consider removing names from resumes.

So people make expectations by Bayesian update.

Someone said it is not really a "prior" if you don't update it.

Seems here people gave the general expectation wrong and are looking to the tests for exceptions.

Also, white privilege in concrete terms.

White privilege is really just an information structure created by past experience and expected costs.

The world would be a much better place if our biases were formed by direct experience.

We'd all die crossing the street...

You would live very long though.

You must also put people in groups based on skin color, instead many other physical characteristics we could use for example height , weight, gender, age, eye or hair color

Right, because we all know that albino African Americans are considered white people

Well meaning reforms don't work out? It sounds like everything else people have tried to do since the Great Society. Trying to save the criminal, or the defaulters in this case, results in the entire community suffering. Meaning well is rarely enough.

Banning credit checks simply moves the risk from the defaultee on to the future employer. If they do not know the man in front of them is a risk, they will not take that risk themselves by employing him. Letting them know what the risks are and they will make an informed decision.

Does the same result hold for drug tests and IQ tests?

It might seem that way if you only focus on projects which did not work out optimally or which had perverse consequences, and pretend that all successful interventions never happened.

Why would personal credit problems affect your ability to do your job?

And one is assuming that the social desirability of increasing the hiring of certain races outweighs the loss of opportunities to people who had prior financial problems.

Well, since the paper basically demonstrates incorrectly weighted stereotyping, perhaps it would be better to target negative steterotyping and also not have credit checks, thereby improving job market access of both groups.

It does no such thing

Since prior financial problems may directly indicate unfitness for particular jobs, while race at best has some level of correlation, sure.

Almost every job that isn't being replaced by a robot involves submitting expenses, dealing with customer assets, invoicing, repetitive data entry. Something that requires a level of trustworthiness. Whether a credit check is a valid indication is an open question.

Personal credit is presumed to correlate with certain work habits (punctuality, self-control, etc.) and one's willingness to steal or to file lawsuits (which is why insurance companies use it).

I guess a credit check is a reasonable surrogate for bad behavior on the job, such as stealing or running up an expense account, but it seems like it would be fairly imprecise with a lot of "false positives." There are probably lots of people with bad credit, for whatever reason, who wouldn't allow that to impact their behavior at work. Would like to see some research on this.

A history of credit problems is likely a reasonable (though imperfect) proxy for impulsiveness/lack of self-discipline.

Of all the people I've known with fairly serious credit problems, they are not especially more impulsive than other people (one exception, out of five people that come to mind, but his problems can basically be summed up by alcoholism).

Causes include: a) in working class poverty and then got SLIGHTLY out of their means, not having quite fully considered costs in the first instance of spending (say, buy a slightly nicer TV/computer like everyone else has got, or eating a couple/few restaurant meals a week when in retrospect it bungled the budget), or running into an immediate need to spend a bunch of money on a car or car repairs in order to keep a job, and then in the downwards spiral of the credit trap where getting just a couple/few thousand dollars behind proved to be insurmountable; b) lost a job due to factors unrelated to their performance (business shut down, or were in a position where periodically shifting leadership is desirable and they were unable to find as highly remunerated work and for very reasonable considerations were not able to readjust their costs/income fast enough to avoid credit problems); c) took a risk to invest in a business but only qualified for a high-interest personal business loan, and ended up with bad credit after the business didn't pan out; d) graduated with a large student loan in a bad job market, and despite being able to delay student loan payments, resorted to credit rather than social assistance to cover short-term costs, having incorrectly estimated their ability to find a job quickly.

In fact, they are often much LESS impulsive in their behaviour, because economic circumstance dictated that impulsive spending behaviours were simply not an option. Is it "impuslive" to buy new furniture when a bedbug infestation hits the apartment building, and you have to throw out everything and move to a new apartment? This whole story line of "the poor are poor because they did it all to themselves, and this is the general picture" is simply not reflective of what I've observed in life. Poverty causes credit problems, not impulsiveness causing poverty and bad credit, for the most part.

Some people, however, can just call the bank of mom and dad, or maybe a rich uncle, when faced with such contingencies. I do not decry their privilege because I'm just not like that, but MAN, it is not fair.

Not only is a history of credit a VERY HIGHLY imperfect proxy for impulsiveness or lack of discipline, it can easily contribute to a downward spiral where either a) you face high payments for remaining high risk credit and high payments in cases where necessity dictated that you take out credit (e.g., fly to a family funeral, pay for necessary medications, spend a few grand to get licensed in some trade where job prospects look good), or b) are altogether unable to access credit for critical things to get things back together, like a business loan to try to start another business, a car loan so you can get to work, or invest in home repairs which will reduce costs even in the short to medium term. Oh, and let's heap exclusion from the job market onto that. That'll help.

I imagine the perspective differs radically when you're basically connected to a lot of working class background, as compared to privileged people who are used to high consumption profiles while growing up and just keep on spending when they can't afford it.

Woodrow Wilson once said "If you want your memo read, put it on one page". I knew the manager of a temp agency in Rochester who told me than any resume longer than one page went into the trash ("It's not worth my time to read. I'm not hiring professionals").

Anecdotes galore!!

"not having quite fully considered costs (say, buy a slightly nicer TV/computer like everyone else has got, or eating a couple/few restaurant meals a week when in retrospect it bungled the budget)"

I.e. poor impulse control and money management skills, thus proving the point.

"graduated with a large student loan in a bad job market, and despite being able to delay student loan payments, resorted to credit rather than social assistance to cover short-term costs, having incorrectly estimated their ability to find a job quickly."

Choosing to major in environmental-womyn's studies and expecting to find a job quickly at Starbucks facilitating "social justice" discussions among customers is a bad bet.

Do you do anything productive in China, or do you just write 12-15 tl;dr posts per MR blog post all day long?

@MC, there are a lot of people among the younger generation who majored in "useful" fields (hard sciences, engineering, or attended law or business school) who struggle to find employment. It's not just underwater basket weaving majors.

took a risk to invest in a business but only qualified for a high-interest personal business loan

This one confuses me. Someone took out a (presumably unsecured, if it so negatively impacted credit) personal loan to invest in a business? Was this not their own business? Did they not get any interest in the business that they could have pledged as collateral rather than risk their creditworthiness? This one in particular reeks of poor decisionmaking dressed up post hoc as victimization by circumstance.

anon - I'm thinking out loud about things I'm interested in.

I have a lot of time on my hands, yeah. It's hard to be employed in my areas of specialy when you have offensively contrarian perspectives about specific areas of orthodoxy with respect to basically any partisan or ideological group. Which makes it a perfect fit for freelance editing and translating for academics, who as a general rule actually welcome critique (well, that's not what they hire me for, but they don't mind).

Bill - bad decisions get made in busines all the time. How many trillions in corporate decisions are written off each and every year due to mistakes?

However, when you're just getting started, and make resourse to personal business loans ... anyways, isn't risk taking supposed to be lionized in a capitalist system?

Nathan W, thank you very much for taking the time to explain what you're thinking and why. I figure MR is a place for serious discussion, not one-liner trolls.

MC, speaking of impulse control you seem to need instant gratification -- ie, leaping to conclusions.

Tyler Cowen liked to say in class that if you've never missed a plane, you're spending too much time in airports. Likewise, if you've never spent just a little bit more than you should have, you're likely a boring person.

People tend not to just sit down with all the possible numbers (rent? train fare? gas? clothes? dry cleaning? food? etc?) to see what they can afford...among other things, many specific events are too unpredictable.

That's why we tend to watch those around us. If (people we assume are) similarly situated folks can (presumably) afford a MacBook Air and a new smartphone every two years, we figure so can we. (They may not confide in us that their Bank of Mom and Dad is subsidizing much of their lifestyle, after all.)

And as for careers: What Cassiodorus said. In case you haven't noticed, it's practically a scandal how many law school graduates (1) do boiler-room "document review" all day every day for maybe $35/hour, (2) hang out their own shingle* and on average are ramen profitable, (3) do something they could have done without ever having so much as taken the LSAT or (4) do nothing at all. Keep in mind that law school used to be a blue chip way to go.

(Not That) Bill O'Reilly, many people don't know that for business loans -- especially for new and/or small businesses -- lenders commonly require personal guarantees. That means if for whatever reason the business itself doesn't pay, the individual owner(s) have to.

Last but not least, could we all keep in mind something that Adam Smith noticed 240 years ago? People -- especially young people -- tend to be optimistic about their chances.** It's called being human.

Not all or even most of us can be the lucky ones. It's called the law of probability.

And time and chance happen to us all. It's called living.

[*] Spoiler alert: That route is much more lucrative after years or decades of experience (Read: Your own book of business). But not everyone gets that choice.

[**] In fact, Adam Smith also noticed one thing scientists are now confirming: The realistic folks tend to be clinically depressed.

One of the reasons why auto insurance companies have found credit history to be a better predictor of future claims than actual driving history.

Is that true? So that would mean my credit rating matters more for my premium than my driving history? I find that implausible.

Meaning well is rarely enough.

You're assuming people want to accomplish something, and not merely strike poses in an exercise in self-congratulation. Nat Hentoff is real old and Harold Pollack is an oddball. The overwhelming majority on the portside are of the latter type. So, 'meaning well' is the whole point.

Wonder what the effect of states banning employers from asking about criminal background checks (with the obvious exceptions) in job applications has been. Fewer black people hired? Now that would be counterintuitive.

Depends how you count the stats. If you can ask people about whether they have violated any social expectations in a manner defined as criminal, then anyone with a record will not apply for these jobs. They will not show up as "unemployed" because they aren't looking for work. Of course, that also means that their options to earn income are primarily in illegal markets, which itself is good enough reason to ban criminal record checks for the vast majority of job types (I've seen the question in Canada a few times which asks "are you bondable" - they need a reason for this, like you're going to be handling lots of cash or have a lot of independence in high-valued financial decisions).

It's not obvious how to untangle formal unemployment from the net employment, but the most obvious solution is to focus on the employed share of the population, not the unemployment rate among those defined as "in the labour market" (which excludes those who are unemployed and not looking for legal work).

"violated any social expectations in a manner defined as criminal"
This is a gem.

I'm not saying the social expectations are wrong in quite a lot of instances (obviously I'm implying disagreement about at least some laws), but isn't that basically what it is?

No, it's law-breaking

Cliff - yes, it is law breaking. For example, in my employment contract in China, I would be breaking the law to express opinions about politics in China to any person in China.

That is also law breaking. Is it not “violated any social expectations in a manner defined as criminal”?

There is such a thing as a bad law.

Sorry, should read "asking about a criminal background" not "asking about criminal background checks." These laws typically still allow background checks, but later in hiring process.

Same story with intelligence tests which were de facto outlawed by Griggs v. Duke Power. Condescension kills.

See the 2006 study by Holzer, Raphael and Stoll, finding that “the empirical estimates indicate that employers who perform criminal background checks are more likely to hire black applicants than employers that do not.”

Interesting, but looking more closely, it appears that may be driven by the fact that firms with more black applicants are also more likely check for criminal records. "The patterns for proportions of black applicants, however, indicate that
these findings may be driven by differences in the application rates of blacks across establishments". Of course, this trend may be a reaction on the part of black applicants, but that seems less likely.

I remember a comment by Thomas Sowell on one of his Uncommon Knowledge appearances to the effect that when employers conducted criminal background checks they hired more young black men. The comment was provoked by a federal government plan to outlaw criminal background checks as discriminatory.

Credit is #socialconstruct created by #deadoldwhitemen to perpetuate their #privilege and subjugate #blackbodies by imposing on them #hegemoinc #whiteculture.

God, I need to stop reading twitter.

This certainly puts a lie to the notion that poorer outcomes for blacks are all their own fault. Not saying that blacks cannot take more initiatve at the levels of family and community, but clearly things are operating within society which disadvantage otherwise equal applicants.

"This certainly puts a lie to the notion that poorer outcomes for blacks are all their own fault." Keyword: War on Drugs.

Well if the violent rapist thugs desecrating our blue-eyed virgins had not been diseseminating substances which make people lazy, unworthy, and drive them into sheer madness, perhaps it would have not been vital to uphold civilization and the higher moral order (by eradicating the existence of substances which compete with more expensive pharma products).

Or, maybe white girls sometimes slept with black men, and people were so racist that they could not see it as anything but rape, and when observing poor people who sold natural products to make a few bucks they concluded that they were all lazy bums, never mind that they were generally also excluded from employment markets. Mistaking a high or psyhcedelic experience as a descent into madness might have seemed reasonable to some, especially considering that the same types who experiment in the possibilities of mind are likely to be pretty non-conformist in the first place, and therefore come across as "crazy".

Wow. Get back on the drugs Nathan. You sounded saner when you were on them.

Wow. Just fu**ing wow.

Wow. Get back on the drugs Nathan. You sounded saner when you were on them.

You have to forgive Nathan. He doesn't typically come in contact with people whose opinion differs from his own, and he seems to have gotten all of his preconceptions of conservatives from watching "Birth of a Nation."

Jake - that's a pretty dumb statement, considering that if you feel qualified to comment on "who I typically come in contact with", you would know that I meet little but disagreement on this forum. I find that people who experiment in drugs are, as a group, far more non-conformist than just about anyone else on the planet.

As for where I get my views on conservatism? Well, people like you, for a start. Also, conservative media outlets. Also, having been well-ingrained in conservative teachings in political philosophy, international relations and economics. Also, being familiar with the scriptural and cultural bases of social conservatism in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhish and Confucianism.

I think I've heard of "Birth of a Nation". Unless it's written by a highly accredited and acclaimed historian, I wouldn't bother to read much past the Amazon description and skim of a few reviews (just checked Amazon, but there are a few books with that title so ... yeah, I don't even know.)

Hey, but don't let any of that get in the way of a chance to throw mud at people you disagree with instead of engaging with their opinions. Sounds rather more to me like you're the one who doesn't come in contact with people whose opinions differ from yours.

AIG - that's roughly the two sides of the argument, no? Do you disagree with any of the portrayal?


Everything about it is wrong. You completely fail the ideological Turing test and "your side" of the "argument" is bizarre and makes no sense.

About 50% of people have experimented with drugs so if anything you can say that makes you a conformist.

Just because I understand conservatism does not mean I must argue in favour of it. Some aspects, I do argue in favour of, others, not.

However, one can fail the Ideological Turing Test in a manner which is conducive to pointing out flaws, inconsistencies, or failures in moral reasoning in the ideology at hand.

Consider the two following anti-leftist arguments. 1) "They want to steal from the rich and give everything to lazy people". 2) "They think we would be better off destroying incentive systems for highly productive people in order to make sure everyone gets a chance, but they don't care about the negative effect on incentives."

Both fail the ideological turning test. But the second demonstrates understanding of what they are arguing against.

Or, maybe white girls sometimes slept with black men, and people were so racist that they could not see it as anything but rape

Not to mention helped along more than once in a blue moon by a white girl who (truthfully or otherwise) said it was rape.

The fact that blacks happen to have poorer credit scores than others, is not in question. They do. So it doesn't say whether the stereotype is correct or not. In fact it is.

All this says is that if you prevent me from viewing someone as an individual, but instead insist that I view them on their race...they lose.

Hence the counter-productive policy

Poorer credit scores......on average. You can still hire from the top of the distribution. Yes, when you can't make difference among individuals (educational & credit score, drug tests) all you see is skin color.

Is the revealed behavior of the employers rational? (Assume an AI with no feelings w.r.t. race were making the decisions. Would it make them differently in this case?)

Suppose I have two populations of equal sizes, the reds and the blues. The reds have a 10% chance of having the undesirable property I want to avoid, the blues have a 30% chance of having it.

In world #1, I can give everyone a test to find out if they have this undesirable property. After the test results are in, I hire equally among those that passed. My final hiring comes from the 90% of the reds who pass the test and the 70% of blues who pass it. I end up with a pretty mixed workforce, about 58% red and 42%.

In world #2, I have no way to find out who has the undesireable property. My best strategy is to fall back on population averages--I hire only blues to minimize my number of employees with the undesireable property.

Best explanation yet.

If more of them get hired when there are credit checks, this implies that employers previously over-estimated the correctness of the negative stereotype.

Na. Consider the employer choosing between two people, one of which has a 40% chance of having bad credit, the other having a 20% chance of bad credit with all else equal. They choose the 20% person. Now suppose every employer makes the same decision. Folks from the 20% group all get the jobs while none of the 40% group get jobs. Rather than reflect reality, you get a disproportionate number of folks employed with no one overestimating anything.

If I develop a heuristic that "orange means fast" based on a correlation that orange cats are, on average, 60% faster than non-orange cats, I'm not going to use the heuristic just 60% of the time.

That's not how heuristics work.

But when they actually reveal their credit scores, things turn out better than when they don't. Suggesting the presence of an exaggerated stereotype.

It would be nice if people could view people as just people, but that is not the reality that many people live in.

So you arrive to the moment where you should make a choice. What is more important? a) the ideal world where people view others as just people, or b) more equal employment opportunities in spite of stereotypes & racism. Ideals or results?

"Suggesting the presence of an exaggerated stereotype"

No, even with a correct stereotype this works against the group with a larger 'bad' attribute because, absent testing, it's not worth the additional risk. See the examples above.

Ugh. I have huge problems with both credit checks and drug tests. Credit checks disriminate against a lot of unlucky people, include those who lose jobs, those who find themselves in underwater housing, auto and personal business loans during a recessions, and those whose poor starting point predisposes them towards credit problems regardless of their best of efforts and intentions. Like, imagine graduating in a recession with a 100k private-sector student loans, and it takes you three months to find a job, by which point in time you're triggered a major credit downgrading ... talk about kicking a man who is down!

And ... drugs? Like, who the hell cares what people do in their own time so long as they demonstrate ability and commitment on the job?

There must be a better way to reduce the role of discrimination of blacks in their labour market challenges than introducing new forms of implicit discrimination which affects others, perhaps just as unfairly.

Drug addict with poor credit score detected. I'm shocked!

Discriminate against people who have no personal responsibility? Yeah, that's kind of what they are going for.

What next? You'll complain that companies checking your school transcripts is discriminatory to people who flunked out. Why should a hospital discriminate against hiring me as a brain surgeon simply because I only made it to the 8th grade. I was UNLUCKY!

PS: You clearly are not aware that student loan repayments don't even begin until 6 months after graduation, and this period can easily be extended for much longer till you find a job. So, nice made up story there. Tell it to Bernie Sanders. He might believe you.

PPS: If you graduated with $100k....private sector student loans...and don't find a job, that is in itself a pretty good indicator that you're an idiot and should not be hired.

None of any of these situations apply to me.

As opposed to credit checks, it's hard to argue that school transripts occur due to things out of your control (well, in reality actually they are, but we tend to prioritize personal responsibility).

I specified private-sector loan because they have different terms than the government-backed ones.

People cannot accurately assess their empoyment and income prospects upon graduation at the time they choose a university or major. This is one of the reasons for a major data initiative undertaken under Obama. Moreover, people graduate in different economic conditions.

The idealization of personal responsibility as the criteria for evaluating outcomes can be taken too far. There is luck ...

"it’s hard to argue that school transripts occur due to things out of your control (well, in reality actually they are"

Hahaha what?

Hey, it's not my fault there were a bunch of people smarter than me who mucked up the curve.

Did you live in a neighbourhood with a high tax base and good quality schools? Did your parents send you to math camp and hire tutors throughout your learning? Did you have parents who directed you towards various self-guided learning opportunities? Did you get caught up in the wrong group at high school who led you into drugs and partying instead of studying hard? Did you have to work 20 hours a week during school instead of studying?

Each and every one of those will HUGELY affect your academic success, through no "fault" of your own. Two of those do not apply to me, and they made all the difference in the world.

There's an important aspect of this I think several people are missing.

Suppose you are hiring someone to watch your children. One of the candidates was once convicted of armed robbery, but none of the others have a criminal record at all.

Now, being convicted of armed robbery doesn't absolutely mean someone is unfit to care for children. Maybe the court got it wrong and the candidate was really innocent. Maybe he was guilty, but that was many years ago, when he was a messed-up kid who was running with the wrong crowd, and he's way better now. Maybe he committed that crime only under extraordinary conditions that would never recur--like he robbed a bank to get money to pay for his kid's cancer treatments or something.

And yet, given all that, it's completely rational for you to say "thanks, but no thanks," and exclude that candidate from further consideration as a babysitter. The fact that he was once convicted of armed robbery doesn't guarantee that he would be a bad choice, but it makes it pretty likely. It's hard to imagine your being so short on other candidates that he would be the one you'd choose to watch your kids.

It's useful to think in terms of probabilities, here. Perhaps I care about the probability that you're going to smack my kids around, P[smack]. There are a lot of pieces of information that should make me raise or lower my estimate of that probability.

To use a simple example, suppose on the way up to interview for the babysitting job, I see you haul off and smack your own kid across the face. Now, that's still not a guarantee that you'e going to smack my kid around while babysitting him, but it sure makes that seem a lot more likely. My estimate of P[smack] for you goes way up.

Or suppose I find out you have a previous conviction for child abuse, involving beating up your kid. Again, that doesn't mean I should estimate P[smack]=1. You may have been falsely convicted, or it may have been some extraordinary situation that will never repeat. But my estimate of P[smack] is going to go way, way up in this case. And the result is, I'm not hiring you to watch my kid, because I estimate that it's too likely you'll end up smacking him around.

Similarly, suppose I walk into a restaurant, notice that the floors are dirty, and see a roach crawling up the wall. Now, that doesn't guarantee that the food is going to make me sick--perhaps the kitchen is super clean, everything is kept hot or cold, there are no bugs anywhere close to the food, etc. But I'm still not eating there. My estimate of P[this food will make me sick] goes up by quite a bit when I see a dirty restaurant with bugs on the walls.

All this is probabilistic information. None of it guarantees a bad outcome, but you as a sensible decisionmaker still take it into account, because it tells you something about the stuff you care about.

Now, sometimes we make a political decision to exclude some information from consideration. For example, it might be simpler to arrange days off at my factory if everyone is a Catholic, so they'll all have the same holidays and want Sundays off and such. But religious discrimination has worked out pretty badly in a lot of ways in the past, so I'm explicitly forbidden from asking about religion in an interview, and if I'm found to have a policy of never employing Jews or Muslims, I'll probably get sued for a big pile of money.

albatross - child care easily passes the smell test of good reasons to have background checks. I'm pretty sure that laws just about everywhere where background checks are highly curtailed explicitly allow to have background checks for anything at all relating to child care or any work that involves working with children. In some cases, these background checks are only allowed to report on anything that is likely to be relevant, and, for example, would not report on a drug charge or a financial crime.

Wow. You're truly thick. Being able to figure out employment opportunities...before...choosing a college major is precisely a reflection of one's intelligence and personal responsibility.

OK Sherlock. What can I study that will give me 100% chance of a high paying job shortly after graduation? What if you're not good at biology but don't realize until several years of study that you're not going to cut it for medicine?

You seem to think that everyone has their personal 100% accurate forecasting tool. Unicorns and rainbows much? I would like one of those. I don't even know what's going to happen tomorrow, let alone four years down the road.

I got an offer of a $1000 translation contract today for a couple days' work, but I know that the agency sends out the same message to a dozen people at a time and usually takes the first response, because they need it done quick. It seems they already gave it to someone else because they didn't respond to my affirmative response yet and are probably busy managing other projects. Stuff like that happens to things that direct entire careers, not just the next little job.

Seriously, you don't have a clue how things work in the real world. Are you a student? A retiree who only worked one job ever that you walked into straight out of school? I mean, you shouldn't take it as an insult, but it's quite obviously the case that you don't know much about how the world works. If you can recognize that, there is more hope for learning.

"Like, imagine graduating in a recession with a 100k private-sector student loans, and it takes you three months to find a job."

But that's not something that just happens to you beyond your control -- that's a result of bad-decision making (e.g. borrowing six figures to go to an expensive private university -- when lower cost public options are available -- to get a degree that is not in high demand). As an employer, I'd prefer to hire people who demonstrate more sense and foresight -- is that crazy?

"But that’s not something that just happens to you beyond your control — that’s a result of bad-decision making (e.g. borrowing six figures to go to an expensive private university — when lower cost public options are available — to get a degree that is not in high demand)."

...while taking the lower-cost public option could cause you to be filtered out even earlier in the process due to having a less prestigious credential. Also, anymore, those public options aren't much lower cost than private universities. Ivy/"Public Ivy" degree w/high debt > average state school degree w/low or no debt. Average state school degree w/high debt > community college degree w/low or no debt.

Outside of engineering and perhaps advanced mathematics--which are too difficult for the vast majority of people to acquire--most degrees aren't in universally high demand.

Lastly, expecting that level of sense and foresight (i.e. wisdom) from anyone under 25 is naive and unrealistic.

Private-sector loans. Not private schools

"…while taking the lower-cost public option could cause you to be filtered out even earlier in the process due to having a less prestigious credential"

Even if one went to HARVARD, one would be hard pressed to have six figure loans out of undergrad.

"For the 2015-2016 year, the university says that most students from families making less than $65,000 a year attended absolutely free. If you came from a family making between $65,000 and $150,000, you typically have to kick in 10% of your family income or less. Students with families making slightly more also receive considerable financial support from the school.

One statistic in particular illustrates the scope of the university’s aid program, which is entirely need-based. For roughly 90% percent of families, Harvard actually costs the same as, or less than, an education at a state school."

Second, vast majority of state flagship universities are very very competitive and very good. Sure, people may not hire you as a lawyer if you came out of Nebraska. But if you graduated for just about everything else, you'd still be in the top of the distribution. So no, there are plenty of cheap alternatives.

Third, if going to a more expensive school increases your chances of getting a job due to it being a better school, then by definition Nathan's insane example would not apply. Your chances of getting a job, conditional on your abilities...would be HIGHER.

@AIG: "Even if one went to HARVARD, one would be hard pressed to have six figure loans out of undergrad."


Also, I'm well aware the Ivies can be generous with their financial aid. It varies by state, but, unless one is an affirmative action case of some sort or qualified for an athletic scholarship, most state schools and non-Ivy private colleges are not.

"Second, vast majority of state flagship universities are very very competitive and very good."

Wrong. The top 20-30 are "very[,] very competitive and very good." The rest range from solid, but not prestigious to shit. See: U.S. News & World Report rankings. Below that top 20-30, the most we can realistically say is that, in general, you're probably more competitive with a degree from a state school with national name recognition than with a degree from one without national name recognition.

You also need to factor in geography into prestige/competitiveness. For example: UC-Berkeley > Univ. of Michigan > Univ. of Kansas.

"Sure, people may not hire you as a lawyer if you came out of Nebraska. But if you graduated for just about everything else, you’d still be in the top of the distribution. So no, there are plenty of cheap alternatives."

With concordant declines in the marketability of the degree. The truly cheap alternatives are primarily Division II-or-smaller state schools and regional liberal arts colleges which, in the job market, come out in the wash as "generic college degree". Which has roughly the same marketability as a high school diploma 30+ years ago.

Based on your statements here, I'm guessing you're a middle-aged Boomer or older Gen-Xer who finished college before 1990. The days when degrees from sub-Ivy schools were pretty much interchangeable with each other in terms of marketability and prestige are long, long gone. Average isn't good enough anymore. Hell, even above average isn't good enough anymore.

A degree from Flagship State is less marketable than a degree from Ivy U. A degree from East Buttfuck State is less marketable than a degree from Flagship State. A degree from Shithole Community College is less marketable than a degree from East Buttfuck State.

Given the current structure of the entry-level job market, the economic incentive is to pursue a credential from the most prestigious school one can get admitted to regardless of the price tag.

Right, because anyone on the planet can actually predict their expected income and employment opportunities relating to their area of expertise upon entering the employment market. Maybe if daddy guaranteed you a job in the family business, or can with 100% certainty hook you up with a job in one of his buddy's businesses. But that doesn't apply to most of the world.

People who have attained success are ever loathe to recognize that luck has anything to do with anything, preferring to give themselves full credit for all the good stuff and diffuse blame to others for the bad stuff (like, really, when something bad has happened in your life, how often do you blame yourself rather than circumstance?)

That is absolutely the most basic thing you should do when considering investing a large sum of money. What do you expect the return to be? How stupid is it to take on $100,000 in debt without EVEN THINKING about whether you can pay it back?

"People who have attained success are ever loathe to recognize that luck has anything to do with anything, preferring to give themselves full credit for all the good stuff and diffuse blame to others for the bad stuff (like, really, when something bad has happened in your life, how often do you blame yourself rather than circumstance?"

Do you ever get tired of inventing pyscho-babble?

"That is absolutely the most basic thing you should do when considering investing a large sum of money. What do you expect the return to be? How stupid is it to take on $100,000 in debt without EVEN THINKING about whether you can pay it back?"

When it comes to higher education, there's a dimension to the incentives at work that you and Slocum are missing. While having a degree doesn't guarantee you a decent-paying job, not having a degree can and often does guarantee that you won't get a decent-paying job or even be considered for one. That is, the credential is necessary, but not always sufficient. Unless you have the means to pay for it outright, going into debt to acquire the credential is therefore inevitable.*** It becomes not a question of if, but of how much. Keep in mind, all of this is before factoring in the prestige dimension I described to Slocum above.

Also keep in mind that expecting a truly adult level of foresight from kids in their late teens is, in this day and age, fanciful at best. If for no other reason than that, for the last 30+ years, both our popular culture and educational institutions have conditioned them to pursue their dreams regardless of the expense, not to approach higher education and career planning from a sober, practical, fiscally responsible perspective.

***Unless, of course, you're content to live with mom and dad for another 5-10 years while you either a) slowly claw your way up to Assistant Manager at >insert national retail chain here< or b) really roll the dice and try to start your own business...for which the going failure rate is 90%.

"That is absolutely the most basic thing you should do when considering investing a large sum of money"

LOL. The fact that this needs to be explained to Nathan, is all one needs to know.

AIG - any comments on the risk taking and prudent financial management on the part of those at the uppermost heights of our financial system?

Oh, we bail them out. And then lecture 18-year olds if they don't read the crystal ball right.

Most people have lived lives of such comfort that they have no idea of the strong role luck has played.

"People who have attained success are ever loathe to recognize that luck has anything to do with anything..."

You're commenting too much again. Especially when you're simply vanquishing strawmen in your funny little head.

One of the biggest objections I have to the whole scheme of student loans is that we end up having 18-21 year olds make this huge investment decision involving their own schooling, when they overwhelmingly lack the knowledge and experience to make a good decision, and when essentially the whole structure of respectable authorities in the society encourages them to maximize their bet and follow their dreams.

People work harder if they are doing what they want to do, roughly speaking. A little more realism wouldn't hurt though, in addition to being more explicit about the public interest aspects of them being able to succeed economically at a personal level.

That depends on your field. Law school, for example, has a six-figure cost in most states even if you're paying in-state tuition.

Absolutely. Which is why people from low-ranked law schools have a hard time getting jobs: the market is saying "boy you're really dumb to have spend six figures on such a crappy school! If you couldn't get into a top law school, don't even bother"

What next: affirmative action harms rather than helps? Someone should tell these guys to knock it off.

Assuming the worst about people we don't know is, unfortunately, common human behavior, whether black Americans, Muslim Americans, Mexican Americans, or union members. I mention unions because in my region, the South, unions are blamed for almost every adverse economic development, even though we don't have many unions in the South and most people in the South don't even know anyone who belongs to a union. Of course, some politicians exploit this human behavior for their selfish political advantage. That an invasion of privacy might help overcome such bias is no reason to support invasion of privacy; indeed, I wouldn't trust anyone who claims to support invasion of privacy "for the children" any more than I would trust a politician who exploits the bias for his political advantage. Both are swimming in the same shark infested water.

"we don’t have many unions in the South and most people in the South don’t even know anyone who belongs to a union"

The unions that we do have in the South, well...

Maybe banning credit checks simply creates more competition for unskilled jobs.

When background checks are banned employers will discriminate against people who tend to have sketchy backgrounds.Employers are substituting group level information for the individual level information they would prefer to have and would be more accurate.

It seems plausible that the effect could be concentrated in the labour supply effect. Employers may not actually discriminate strongly on the basis of the credit check (not informed here, presumably lots of variation), but people with poor credit will not bother to apply to jobs where it is requested.

One rather bizzare takeaway is that SJW should read and take to the heart (and learn by it) the "bayesian persuasion" paper. Because it is the proper way to promote social goals through managing amount of truth reported on each group. Currently SJWs employ heuristics similar to what effective altruism is fighting against.

One portion of this will certainly be employers killing minority applications earlier in the process. Minority applicants have more options for suing employers and are certainly perceived as more likely to sue for wrongful termination or discriminatory hiring. Win or lose, those lawsuits are a large cost. The fewer metrics employers have that are perceived as "objective" by the court, the more lawsuit risk you take on with more minority candidates.

Before the law change if you interviewed a minority candidate who then failed a credit check you could point to "objective" evidence that you were not discriminating on race (maybe the credit bureaus were, but the applicant is free to sue them and not you). Now, every time you move an applicant forward you have more contestable claims. As the risk of a lawsuit for any given individual is very small, but the costs are perceived to be very high it is far safer to kill applications when you know the least about someone.

As a minority, I am in favor of every test that I can control that gives employers more information about me. The more easily they can measure me the less likely I am to be stereotyped and dismissed from the application process on "fit" or something other subjective BS. Even if tests, like credit checks, are biased against me, knowing where I fall relative to my peers helps me differentiate myself from the pack.

Without "objective" tests, if you are lucky enough, it comes down to subjective interviews. These are terrible. For medical school interviews, 56% of the variance in interview scores comes from the interviewer. If you happen to share a race, religion, political affiliation, etc. with the interviewer you are much more likely to be evaluated favorably. You also get points for being young and beautiful (with certain caveats). As a minority you are inherently less likely to have such matching work in your favor and as anyone the luck of credit scores is vastly less than the luck of genetics for height and facial symmetry. And the fun thing is, this sort of matching bias occurs even among people instructed in their biases who score relatively low on stereotype measures.

Interviews can always be fudged, but credit scores cannot. I would much rather face a playing field where even if it is slanted, I can make forward progress than one utterly beyond my control. Credit checks and drug tests may be discriminatory, but I have seen zero evidence that they are more discriminatory than interviews or even "hiring manager vets resumes".

Indeed. The human reaction is to congregate with your tribe. People who are like you socially, background, etc.

If a young man from a bad neighborhood shows up with great marks at school, no indication of drugs, no criminal record those are recommendations of value and would probably be a good candidate. Without the tests and indications he is just another kid from the hood.

Does it really strike you that employers fear lawsuits for wrongful dismissal to the extent that this is what influences their hiring practices to a significant amount? Speaking from your personal perspective, I'm quite prepared to take this as a credible perception, at least some of the time. But, I'm skeptical that the effect would tend to be large - I would a priori expect this would only really be relevant for firms where there were previous suits which they deemed to be poorly founded.

HR professionals are, in the main, more concerned with (A) avoiding lawsuits than with (B) finding a perfect fit for an open position. They can lose their job for failing to accomplish (A), whether through being terminated or seeing the company go under; no one ever lost their job over hiring a few sub-par candidates.


Absolutely. I worked at a large-ish consulting firm once where they made sure every hiring decision had a three member committee of one African American, one Lesbian/Gay, one Latino/Hispanic, one woman, and one non-Christian (atheist, Hindu, Jew, whatever). Those of us who griped about having to spend disproportionate time on these mind numbingly dull committees were told that by having us there, the firm was vastly less likely to be sued; we eventually got the committees increased to five people with fewer responsibilities but it was indeed a thing. I also had a friend in legal one time who talked about the numbers. Say you have exactly 1% chance of pulling a lawsuit threat and a 1% chance of that lawsuit having major PR implications. Losing a contract would be around $10,000,000. That means that without other screening mechanisms every minority worker starts off $1000 less productive than the competition. Given that we hired a lot of people with exceedingly close to identical qualifications, a 1-1.5% difference in expected costs for the first year was well more than enough to move applicants significantly down the rankings. And that was at a good company with a very good working culture (provided you liked jaded cynicism).

Now do I think these suits actually happen all that often? No. But the fear is certainly there. Much like with doctors and defensive medicine it is much easier to unintentionally engineer a process that culls people early than it is to gamble on juries and lawyer fees. I mean worst case scenario is literally that you get unlucky enough that your hiring manager actually does something racist, leaves credible evidence to that affect, and then the whole firm can get torched. Humans have a huge risk aversion and it only takes a few cautionary tales to poison the climate for everyone. Humans are also fiendishly bad at estimating tiny risks with huge costs. A 1% vs .1% relative risk is huge, but very few hiring managers can accurately gauge those risks.

As a friend of mine once said, "The simplest way to make sure you never get sued for racism in firing a minority employee is simply not to hire minority employees whenever possible and to stick the few you must hire into the least critical portions of the company." Nothing I have ever seen in any hiring process, from either side, has ever shown evidence to the contrary. Because hiring processes that result in fewer lawsuits are preferred, those that survive are often the ones that end up doing this unknowingly. I would far rather have biased "objective" measures if only so I can be fairly differentiated from other minorities. Certainly I prefer having credit scores and standardized evals; I can do some mental math if I think a particular measure is inaccurate or racist and discount it accordingly without pitching the information it contains entirely.

I fully believe that credit scores, criminal background checks, and the like are generally unfair if you were born poor (and in my experience Appalachian whites do not fare so well on those either). But in my experience they are far less unfair than interviews and resume reviews. At the end of the day, I do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Until I see evidence that alternatives are actually better I am all for as precise and as many measures as employers can find.

Sorry, rereading. I may have phrased that poorly. "a 1-1.5% difference in expected costs for the first year was well more than enough to move applicants significantly down the rankings" By that I mean that we were routinely sorting through things that tried to predict that sort of number (test scores, college grades, etc.). If we expected someone to cost $1000 more, say through lower college grades or some other valid measure, they would fall pretty heavily against an otherwise identical candidate. We never explicitly culled on that, the numbers were just such that it made sense to burn a lot of productive peoples' time to sit in on BS meetings to make sure we were not sued.

Thank you for explaining. Unfortunate situation ... I can se a certain rationality to it. The medical analogy is very instructive, in that, reinterpreted somewhat, one group can cover their butts and pass on the costs to others.

As a foreign white male with no particularly strong attachments to any of the identity politics of the USA or partisan preferences (admittedly, I find Democrats to be rather more sane these days, or rather, the descent into irrationality seems somewhat less prevelant among them), I might be in a good position to forward a somewhat subjective moral calculus on the matter. I admit somewhat more sympathy with the unlucky poor (not that all are poor due to bad luck) than to the competent and hard working who wants their abilities and efforts recognized, in part because ALL people struggle to have their abilities and efforts recognized. My personal experience enables me to strongly sympathize with both, but not at all through the lens of identity politics in the USA. My academic background in political science (BA level, top 15 program internationally) was heavily weighted towards the moral philosophy side of things, and I feel well equipped with some tools to reflect on the situation.

Here's the impossibility of the moral calculus at first sight. First, and I think this is very much to your credit, you recognize your own self interest in making your advocacy argument. On the one hand you have the self-interested poor who face additional barriers (say, credit checks, criminal background checks) heaped upon the original barriers (poverty, racism, discrimination), and they want to remove the additional barriers. On the other hand, you have people like yourself who have gone to outsized efforts and dedication to break through these barriers against odds and want a system that allows yourself to PROVE that you have accomplished this and get what you deserve.

The moral calculus is impossible, but only at first sight, because, indeed, it is subject to and prone to bias to determine whether the unlucky poor who face barriers heaped upon barriers should be prioritized over the discriminated-against hard working and unambiguously deserving. Perhaps in an extreme scenario I would be willing to apply roughly utilitarian calculus and say "well, there's just so many more in the one group than the other, so let's prioritize them", but I don't think that's the situation we're looking at.

I forward the argument that you are allowing the good to be the enemy of the perfect, out of rather more personal and shorter-term interest. I do not mean that offensively in the least, and it is an entirely expectable and natural thing to do. I encourage you to advocate for your interest and you should absolutely not tolerate that someone might try to make you feel guilty for doing so, in particular in recognition of a certain level of injustice that you explicitly aim to overcome - in overcoming the injustices you face, you should not be required to tackle ALL injustice in order to have the moral good on your side, even when approached from a perspective of personal interest. But, in doing so, I also encourage you to keep your sights on the perfect while working towards the good. I see no reason for contradiction between the two. Regardless of which group is being prioritized in the advocacy, whether the unlucky poor or the dedicated hard working who demand to be able to PROVE that they deserve it, the ultimate objective of anti-discrimination and anti-racism should remain firmly in sight.

Upvote for Bob's observations.

It is distressing that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions's guidance on using criminal history in hiring strongly recommends an individualized assessment interview for anyone with criminal history. That seems to feed right back into the problem about subjective interviews that Bob identifies.

Bob's point is well taken.

I've thought about how this might play out with regard to hiring a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. Knowing that affirmative action passes less qualified minority students suggests one should not hire them. Knowing that there are at least some objective screening exams (bar exam, CPA exam, etc) suggests this may not matter. Don't know how it plays out in practice.

You also get points for being...beautiful (with certain caveats).

At my undergraduate alma mater, each individual college admits its own students. When I went there, I found that the women of one particular college were especially attractive, and those of another college a close second.

Years later, I found out that College #1 requires every applicant to interview. And College #2 requires every transfer applicant to interview.

If it's private companies deciding to do the credit checks, probably there is a rational reason. If it's government mandating the credit checks, might be another story.

Is this a big zero-sum game among disadvantaged whites and disadvantaged blacks? Is there a right answer?

Probably not that far off, but you can make a marginalist case for the positive labour market effects in either direction.

Credit checks: employers can better discriminate according to what they feel is important to the position, and may also have lower hiring costs for the fact of deterring a lot of applicants.

No credit checks: there is a larger pool of candidates, which will increase the likelihood of a higher quality candidate in the application pool, although it will take a bit more work to find him/her.

What's the next step?

I can easily see Bernie arguing for a national labor database that assigns workers at random for any job.

Pure equality. No bad luck or accident of birth holding anyone down.

That's the goal, right? To do that, it has to be randomized.

Honestly, it might not be that horrible of a strategy for the bottom 20% of jobs. Just let the workers tick boxes of what kinds of jobs they're willing to take, and distribute them randomly in the local labour market. If I were an employer, however, I would resist the idea fiercely. If I'm going to have to work with someone, no matter that we might all do our jobs similarly well, a subjective evaluation of the application helps to choose people that you might get along with better.

I've only had to do hiring a few times for very short-term contracts, but if left with a few similarly good applications, I might look for something in the resume that shows similar interests ("how about those Red Sox" might seal the deal for some, shut the door for others ... real world and all), or I would prefer a candidate with volunteer experience because I'd rather give the work to people who demonstrate their "goodness" (or, at least the willingness to do "good" things to signal such a thing). (I imagine some of the folks here who support the right to discriminate against gays or blacks might like to cry foul, but let me point out, I'm not evaluating anything which is basically an accident of birth, which get right down to how anti-discrimination laws are more fair, even if coercive).

Aren't most things an "accident" of birth? (i.e. not an accident at all but the choice of your parents) After all, I want to hire smart people, but intelligence is basically an "accident" of birth. Models have to be good looking, against mostly something they are born with. Even personality is largely hereditary.

I understand your point (although I think you overstate the case somewhat). But I'm talking about things like skin colour and sexual orientation more specifically.

The findings about credit history and drug testing are consistent with a 2006 study about criminal history by Holzer, Raphael and Stoll, which found that “the empirical estimates indicate that employers who perform criminal background checks are more likely to hire black applicants than employers that do not.” See

The point of all of these is that actual data about an employment applicant dispels negative racial stereotypes. That seems to be the common mechanism. To echo Tyler, "I can’t say that mechanism makes me feel better about the world, but there you go." Specifically, it is distressing to see evidence of how powerful those negative racial stereotypes are. It is also distressing to see how strongly the activist community that supports black employment opposes these practices (credit checks, drug testing, and criminal history checks) that measurably curb discrimination.

Some of those practices make it impossible to engage in the road to redemption, where for no small number of people with a criminal record, the notion of "redemption" may indeed be offensive because they were selling banned substances with no proven ill effects in order to help pay the costs of raising their children.

It's a tough one, because you're giving a better chance to those who have done all the right things, but you're also closing the door firmly on anyone who ever slipped up.

My impression is that black activists tend to be rather more concerned with those in the most vulnerable positions in their communities. I don't think the moral calculus should be judged negatively, even if your own is different.

how powerful those negative racial stereotypes are.

I grew up in the Genesee Valley (which has to urban settlements with about 770,000 people in them and a mess of rural territory and small towns with about 330,000). About 2/3 of the homicides in the Genesee Valley each year occur in a small area you can trace out on a map wherein there live 10% of the population of the whole. All of which is to say that the homicide rate in that bit of urban territory (with just north of 100,000 people in it) exceeds that of the remainder by 13 fold or more. You're likely to be looking at similar disparities in the frequency of other violent crimes and a 3.5 or 4 fold disparity in index crime in general. That might weigh on people's thinking to a degree.

"they were selling banned substances with no proven ill effects in order to help pay the costs of raising their children."

Which banned substances are you talking about? I can't think of any that meet that description. I would love to see your study on how many drug dealers are dealing drugs so their children can survive.

Imagine there are two countries. One is not diverse. They spend all their time and energy on becoming more efficient and raising productivity. The other country is diverse, and spends increasing amounts of time and energy on making sure the outcomes of different groups of people are more equal. And this country does not focus on lifting up those who do poorly, but spends most of its time blaming other people and status signaling.

Which society wins in the long run?

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