Bunch: Blue Apron and the Tensions Within The Liberal Coalition

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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212 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Its to easy to ask if a woman was groped did His Trumpness recently visit? Easy but doesn’t mean i won’t ask it.

    But more generally: meh. He is stretching to make the point he seems to want to make based on one company and some heated coverage. Not asking about criminal records is different from not asking about violent crime. There is plenty of crime that isn’t violent. Age also affects recidivism; the older a person is the less likely they are to be violent.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      Does “Ban the Box” have an exemption for violent crime? I had assumed not, but really don’t know.Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        I’m pretty sure it is about any criminal record with no exception for violence. Like most things criminal records can be complex and not just a simply thing to judge a person on.Report

        • Murali in reply to greginak says:

          Might just be my prejudices, but I would think non-violent crime is also correlated with difficulties in taking orders from management and in working well with others.* What seems to underlie resistance to taking orders from management is a reluctance to acknowledge authority. This reluctance would apply equally to the law as well as management. Violent tendencies seem unnecessary (though could make things worse when coupled with the former).

          *Though I m genuinely curious as to whether there is any such correlationReport

          • greginak in reply to Murali says:

            The various terms are to vague to be meaningful. Is speeding related to difficulty taking orders? Have you driven in the US? There are lots of non-violent crimes and trying to simply tie that to difficulty taking orders is beyond vauge. When did the crime happen? Is there disparities re; who gets arrested and convicted of non-V crimes? Are there differences in types of crimes? Far to much context is missing.Report

      • notme in reply to Will Truman says:

        Nothing that I’ve ever seen about ban the box makes a distinction between types of crime. As usual liberals want it both ways. If someone gets hurt they are just collateral damage and me can sue the company.Report

        • Kim in reply to notme says:

          How many times have you file-13ed an application?
          It’s NOT like the hiring guy isn’t allowed (and supposed to) ask about criminal history. It’s just that people are asking to do it “To His Face” so that they can actually explain.

          This is NOT about “please don’t ask about criminal histories.”

          … now, did you really not understand that, or were you just trolling?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

        At the very least, criminal records should only be visible for a limited amount of time for most background checks.Report

        • Yeah. Maybe “ban the box” could have a compromise, so that companies can ask about certain crimes committed in the past 5 years, or maybe release from prison for 5 years. I’m not sure how the question would be phrased, though.Report

          • notme in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

            Have you been charged with or convicted of a felony within the last 5 years.Report

            • greginak in reply to notme says:

              Shouldn’t be asking about being charged but the rest is fine and clear.Report

              • notme in reply to greginak says:

                Why not?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to notme says:

                A charge is not a conviction, why should it count against a person?Report

              • greginak in reply to notme says:

                A charged person is still innocent, why should that follow them if they aren’t convicted. DA’s commonly dump a ton of charges on people that lead to one or two convictions on lesser charges. Some people have their charges dropped completely or are found innocent at trial. There is no justice served by having that hamper someones life.Report

              • What if someone was convicted 10 years ago of a violent felony but just got out of jail yesterday?

                I’m not sure of my own answer. On the one hand, I’d like for someone to have the opportunity to reenter society once they’ve paid their debt. On the other hand, I can see why businesses could be legitimately worried about someone who just go out of jail.Report

              • greginak in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                “Are you on probation?”
                Realistically a PO is very likely to have contact with a persons employer so the job is going to find out if a person had a prison term that led to a conviction.Report

              • You’d probably know the answer to this, so I’ll ask. How often do people usually get assigned parole officers when they’re released? Most of the time? More seldom?

                I ask because there seems to be a gray area where people are supposedly released but aren’t in the clear and are therefore under a certain amount of state supervision. I also ask because my preferred ban the box compromise was, probably too naively, assuming that people go to jail and then are released, and that’s that. I do realize though that things are probably more complicated, but I don’t know how much more.Report

              • If you’re on parole, you get a PO. Some are strict and others are not. When I was living among a bunch of ex-cons, whether they went back to jail depended as much on their PO as their conduct.Report

              • Is “being on parole” the same as a final release of one’s debt to society? When can the person claim to be no longer under state supervision?Report

              • Troublesome Frog in reply to Will Truman says:

                Does that mean that a particularly nasty PO would send well behaved parolees back or that just about everybody violates the terms of his parole at some point?Report

              • nevermoor in reply to Troublesome Frog says:


                I used to do work with parolees, and the number of restrictions are impossible. One of the more troubling examples was someone with residency restrictions who was diabetic. He had a dangerous diabetic episode, was stabilized in a hospital (he had forms to prove this), was released because he was uninsured, and spent three nights at his sister’s house to recover. That house was an invalid residence, though, so his PO put him back in jail.

                I’ve also seen people get re-arrested, and had POs add charges for missing meetings/drug tests/etc. scheduled AFTER the re-arrest.Report

              • nevermoor in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Depends on the state.

                In CA, everyone is released onto parole instead of free and clear. In many other states, Parole means what you think it would (i.e. you get out of jail early but with conditions on your liberty).

                In either case, it’s different from being done with the penal system, which comes later.Report

              • Thanks for the explanation!Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

            I could see certain jobs being able to get a deeper look at a background check. Schools & daycare’s, for instance, should be able to see violent or sexual crimes for a much longer period, but Home Depot, not so much.Report

          • James K in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


            New Zealand has a rule like this.Report

            • Gabriel Conroy in reply to James K says:

              Does it seem to work?Report

            • Brit in reply to James K says:

              UK has this too. It’s one of those things i had until reading this assumed US had it too! After a certain number of years, convictions are deemed “spent” and need no longer be declared. Some convictions can’t be spent, and for some jobs eg teaching, you still have to declare even if spent.

              Its just part of the order of things, and seems accepted by allReport

        • Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I disagree. I want to know if you’ve been enough of an idiot to have gone to jail. I want to know if you’ve been convicted of indecent exposure. “It happened 20 years ago, and I have a solid work history” is a fine reason for me to overlook it. But I still want to know.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to greginak says:

      “He is stretching to make the point he seems to want to make based on one company and some heated coverage. ”

      How many do we need to find? Two? Three? Many? Lots?

      Or if we flip it around and, as Jaybird mentions below, find employers who’ve suddenly, unexpectedly stopped hiring as many black people now that they aren’t allowed to ask about criminal records…how many of those do we need for it to not just be a talking-dog statistical outlier?Report

      • greginak in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Well yeah you want more than just one example to make larger point. One example is just one if i remember my stats.Report

      • Brit in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Well, if employers arent hiring black people because tgey think black people are likely to be criminals, then those employers are racists engaging in racial discrimination. Does America not have laws against that?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Brit says:

          Sure they do.

          But there are ways around that sort of thing. “You must have at least 4 years experience with this programming language that has only been around since July.”

          But be willing to make an exception here or there. “Since you come so highly recommended.”Report

        • Aaron David in reply to Brit says:

          What @jaybird said, or they could close a plant in Oakland and open one in Portland. All they would have to say is it works better for the company.Report

  2. How is the “real” Elena Ferrante a cultural appropriator?


    you can’t claim to oppose cultural appropriation and be upset when an appropriator is exposed, hiding behind irrelevant arguments against Internet harassment and “doxxing.”

    is either stupid or dishonest. After all, you can’t claim to oppose terrorism and be upset when a terrorist is captured, hiding behind irrelevant arguments against pre-emptive war and “torture.”Report

    • “How is the “real” Elena Ferrante a cultural appropriator?”

      From the Alyssa Rosenberg column mentioned in the excerpt:

      Ferrante is hardly Rachel Dolezal, attempting to live as a person of a different race and to claim positions of influence on the basis of racial identity. But debates about cultural appropriation do seem to imply that authors have to come prepared to defend their bona fides. And if [Claudio Gatti]’s conclusions are correct, Ferrante’s actual life and her subject material don’t precisely match up…“I suspect part of what’s going on, below the surface, is disappointment in who Ferrante has turned out to be,” wrote Noreen Malone in New York Magazine. “She’s not a self-taught peasant who has lived closer to the bone than the rest of us. For all the intimate femaleness of her work, she may or may not have asked her Naples-born husband to (at the very least) fill her in on some of the details of life there…”

      The point being that “cultural appropriation” is about more than race.Report

      • And Steinbeck wasn’t an Okie, and Hemingway didn’t fight against Franco, and Mark Twain wasn’t an orphan or a slave. At least Heinlein really was a dirty old man.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

        The fact she wrote/writes fixtiln seems pretty important.

        Nick Hornby wrote first person as a female. Was that wrong?Report

        • veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

          @kazzy — Are you prepared to accept an unpleasant answer to this question?


          I would say, there is inevitably an “empathic distance” between people with different life experiences. You have yours. That limits you, just as my experience limits me. There is no “universal person.”

          If you listen to minorities, you’ll often hear complaints about how they are represented in the media. Often they don’t like how their stories are ignored. However, when “mainstream” writers try to tell a version of their story, often they don’t like that either.

          It’s as if you cannot please them!

          Of course, if you’re a “privileged” person (some subset of white-cis-str8-male-middle-class-able-bodies-neurotypical-etc.), then you don’t need to please them. You only need to please editors and the “media consumer,” which is likely to be others just like you.

          If I wrote a story about a Nigerian expat eking out life in Singapore, if you read the story, if you liked it, but if it was bogus cliche that most Nigerians and Singaporeans would find completely false — well how would you know? Do you even care?

          It’s up to you.


          Back when I wrote erotica, I would from time to time write a story featuring a male main character. Okay, so these were ostensibly straight guys. Likewise, these stories mostly were read by str8 guys. So — the funny thing is, I’d get feedback like,

          > Hey, I liked your story, but honestly the character came off as a little gay to me…

          Which, heh.

          I wonder, tho, were these readers really picking up “gayness” in my male characters, or were they picking up something else? After all, in the story the characters had str8 sex.

          The only tools I have to understand people are observation and introspection. But observation is limited. It stands outside. The point of introspection, on the other hand, is it is entirely personal. For example, I’ve never “introspected” a male mind. I’ve only “introspected” a trans-femme mind.

          So … I wonder if these str8 dudes were indeed sensing queerness in my characters, but not gayness as such.

          They were still okay stories. But the point is, they were situated in my experience.


          So far as I know, I never had a female reader object to how I portrayed women. Which, I’m not sure what to make of that.

          That said, I never tried to publish on a “by us, for us” lesbian forum. I wonder if, in such an environment, my transness would have been evident?


          When a man writes from the perspective of a woman, fine. But it remains situated. Can his empathy truly cross the barrier?

          Well, can it?

          This is not a moral question. It is a question of capacity. Furthermore, what do you as a reader want?


          There is a reason that women lit up when Thelma and Louise came out. It was our story told by us. That matters.

          But they were still white, middle-class women. It portrayed a certain strain of frustration, but in no way did it portray “universal womanhood.”

          My experience as a woman is quite different, to say the least.


          Lives are contoured, they are rich with particulars. One of the strengths of a novel is the capacity for deep introspection, the slow unfolding of a real situation. But more, a novel explores the contradictions, all the ways life is not like the cliches that immediately come to mind.

          So the writer writes, tens-of-thousands of words, digging into their own psyche, their own experience, their own “well of insights.”

          My life is very different from yours, thus my “well of insights” is different from yours. What I find there will be different.

          I live a trans life. You do not. That matters.


          Casey Plett: http://thewalrus.ca/rise-of-the-gender-novel/


          Who decides what gets published, what gets read, what lands on your bookshelf? How is this decision made? Who has voice? Who lacks voice? What social structures influence this? What role do you play? Who do you want to hear from?Report

          • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

            Does it matter if they take words spoken by a straight white man and put them into a lesbian black female’s mouth? What if no one notices that this happens?

            I’ll grant that not everything is universal (and yet… I will stand on my head before I even consider the thought that a woman is incapable of writing a man “properly” simply because she isn’t a man. Sometimes research is needed)…Report

            • veronica d in reply to Kim says:

              @kim — If you define something as “making no difference,” then it makes no difference. You defined it as such.

              That is logic, philosophy, detached. But what actually happens in the world?

              Nevada happened.

              Now that Nevada (and similar books) are out there, I suppose cis writers can read them and write slightly better trans characters.


              On the other hand, where does the next Nevada come from? Maria is not the universal trans woman.Report

              • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

                I’m not sure I’m defining it as making no difference. I’m firmly of the idea that one can understand most of whatever’s going on in someone else’s head (we pay people a LOT of money to do this. And they’re pretty damn good at predicting it.) — if one works really hard at it.

                Because, if I don’t think that, I’m just as bad as the 15 year old writer who wouldn’t write women into any of his stories, because he couldn’t write them well. (He got better).Report

              • veronica d in reply to Kim says:

                @kim — Show me the cis-written Nevada and I’ll believe you.Report

              • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

                Good answer. (Although, really, I don’t want rapists writing tell-all books. I think they (possibly deliberately) lack the empathy needed to write decent characterization of other people. And that’s about where we wind up, if we start saying “you can’t write me well” not “you guys really suck at research.”)Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

          There’s also this problem (that I don’t know how to condense down to a phrase):

          Person A is an African-American female writing about the struggles of being an African-American female during the civil rights era. Her novel sells approximately seven copies.

          Person B is a white female writing about the struggles of being an African-American female during the civil rights era. Her novel sells approximately one kabillion copies and there’s a movie made and the movie stars all sorts of big names and the movie makes a kabillion dollars.

          Something about that seems tawdry.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to Jaybird says:

            It reminds me of the discussion about race and casting in movies. It’s not Matthew McConaughey’s fault that when Hollywood finally makes a movie about Reconstruction, he’s the white guy that stars in it. I’d pretty broadly say that if you make a creative thing and manage to make it good and sell it to a studio/publisher/network, then good for you regardless of your race/sex/etc. The problem is not with the individual work or creator. But it is a problem that the system (and the tastes and preferences of the public) are such that doing so is so much more difficult for minorities.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

            @jaybird and @veronica-d

            I don’t disagree with anything either of you have offered here, but I’m not sure that applies to this particular case.

            The argument that seems to be being put forth is that it was justified — necessary, even! — to dox this writer because she was writing fictionalized accounts of a lifestyle not her own, with the primary variable being socio-economic class.

            Is there room for a conversation about writers creating characters or exploring worlds outside there own? Yes. Might that fall under the umbrella of cultural appropriation? Certainly and a conversation would help us make much greater sense of that. Is our ability to have that conversation about this particular writer and these particular books limited by her decision to write pseudonymously? Indeed.

            Does that mean she needed to be doxxed? No. Not at all. That is the argument I’m making. If this woman was intentionally misrepresenting herself and hiding behind a falsified identity, risking harm to others? Yea, maybe that’d justify what was done. But given what I understand of the matter, it seems a pretty ridiculous response. When you layer on top a man doxxing a woman, with seemingly no attempt made to include her in the story, I think we are in a really ugly place.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

              I can definitely understand if the disconnect between the setting of her work and her background affected her writing. And even if it didn’t in an obvious way, I can understand saying “We really want people who’ve been there writing these stories because we want to tell our own.” And I can definitely understand a problem if the author’s background was misrepresented.

              But from what little I know first one is a matter of content where her work stands or falls alone. The second is a systemic problem she is not responsible for. The third isn’t the case (is it?).Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                That is my relatively uninformed understanding.

                To Veronica’s point… if the work rang as inaunthentic — especially to the people best positioned to know — that will likely bubble up. If the issue is that this becomes the main insight into this community for outsiders and is an inauthentic representation, that is indeed a problem but I don’t see how doxxing effects it.

                To me, the doxxing reeks of entitlement and shaming. “I deserve to know who this woman is and I don’t care if she gets hurt in the process of me figuring it. And when I do figure it out, I’ll make sure everyone knows because who does she think she is?”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m old enough to remember when the author was dead.

                That said, if a tawdry thing happens, what tools do you have to say “Don’t do this sort of thing!” other than shaming?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Wait, which author is/was dead?

                Did something tawdry happen?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                The Author. It’s a theory of literary criticism that is now apparently so very yesterday.

                I don’t have the necessary moral where-to-stand to be able to say if something truly tawdry happened. I can just sit back and look and see if the Moral Judges are clucking their tongues about this thing that just happened and warming up The Shaming Machine.

                Sadly, our The Shaming The Inappropriate Use Of The Shaming Machine Machine is still in alpha.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’ll say this, if a group of “privileged” folks are yelling at some other group of “privileged” folks over the representation/appropriation/etc. of some other group of people — well I think you can kinda tune out the conversation. After all, the point of representation is bring in new voices, not to witness the same old voices involved in some silly cultural power struggle.

                I’m not Italian working class, who I guess are the topic of this particular imbroglio. I doubt many of those making noise are Italian working class.

                So, if you want to hear actual Italian working class people talk about their lives — well honestly I have no idea how I would do that. There are likely cool books I could read, although perhaps not easily available in English. Who knows.

                I know my own experience. I know how trans people been represented in the media. I know we have been screaming about this for decades, but we’ve been largely unheard.

                We continue to be largely unheard, although by dribs and drabs people are noticing, in small ways.

                We can tell our own stories. If you want to hear them, you easily can. Or not. Your choice. If you instead watch garbage like The Danish Girl or whatever, well that’s on you.

                Regarding the Italian working class — I have little to say. I don’t know shit about that.

                How could I even distinguish the sublime from the banal? Who could I ask? Who could I trust?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:


                A genuine question and admittedly a hypothetical false dilemma…

                What is preferable:
                A) Kazzy is a white straight cis dude who is decently woke to trans issues. He has interacted in real life and online with trans individuals, knows he doesn’t know everything about their experiences but probably knows more than most white straight cis dudes, and well-intentionally writes a book with a trans character. The representation is… meh. Not awful, not great, probably on balance slightly positive (in terms of more good than bad). The book becomes a top seller and gets white straight cis dudes talking about trans issues more than they did before reading the book and sometimes this talk is really awesome and sometimes its “OH GAWD HERE THEY GO AGAIN” and most of them think, “Well, I read that one book with that trans person in it and I had some talks about trans stuff so what else is there for me to do?”
                B) Those white straight cis dudes never reading a book with a trans character.

                I really don’t know the answer. My gut is to say that A is preferable if we accept it as an iterative step and not an end point. But I can think of all sorts of reasons why it might not be preferable. I know that neither is the ideal path or necessarily even a good one… I may be asking you to choose the lesser of two evils.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

                @kazzy — Did you read Casey Plett’s article?

                As another exercise, google “hypervisibility.”

                I’m not going to answer, except to say cliche is cliche and banality is banality. You choose what art to consume.

                Do as thou will.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                How could I even distinguish the sublime from the banal? Who could I ask? Who could I trust?

                Well, if you go out by yourself and purchase a book on the bestseller list or buy a ticket to a movie because you know the actresses playing the lead and you loved her last two movies, you should know that you’re buying mass market crap.

                Which brings us back to the question of whether enjoying a piece of entertainment for a handful of hours is a matter of taste or not.

                It is kind of embarrassing to see someone reading The Girl On The Train, isn’t it? Good Lord. It’s 2016!Report

              • veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

                @kazzy —

                To Veronica’s point… if the work rang as inaunthentic — especially to the people best positioned to know — that will likely bubble up.

                Why would you think that?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:


                Because I assume that the world works as well for other people as it does for me???

                I dunno… it seems like today it is more likely than before that it will bubble up. But it is probably more likely that it doesn’t bubble up than it does. Or, more accurately, it may or may not bubble but how likely folks outside that community are to attend to the bubbling remains a huge question.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

              For the record, I don’t at all think it was necessary to dox this writer. I don’t think it’s appropriate to dox anyone.

              “Is there room for a conversation about writers creating characters or exploring worlds outside there own?”

              If cultural appropriation is bad? Then no, there is not room. There is not room for making a buck off of someone else’s life experience, if the term “cultural appropriation” has any meaning.Report

  3. Saul Degraw says:

    As the Buzzfeed article noted, a big part of Silicon Valley culture is expanding as quickly as possible to gain market share. I don’t see Bunch questioning this for a more white-collar start-up or even Lyft or Uber or Postmates or Alfred or any other service based app.

    So there was one example that went poorly with heated coverage and it comes to being mean to people who are probably minorities (Richmond is only 1/3 Caucasian) so Bunch gets to be snide to liberals!!

    Conservatives never seem to get that liberals might have alternative policy end goals than they do. So conservatives tsk tsk when raising the minimum wage reduces teenage employment but they don’t seem to understand that liberals want every adult worker to have a living wage.. The point of banning the box and refusing to allow employers to discriminate based on criminal background checks is to make sure that a criminal conviction is not a permanent opportunity cost and to have reentry into society. Would he rather have convicts perpetually unemployed?

    What does it take to get conservatives to realize that liberals understand that our policies might have some side-effects but we think they are worth instituting anyway?

    I think Bunch is a snide, moron who is about a quarter as smart as he thinks he is.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      What does it take to get conservatives to realize that liberals understand that our policies might have some side-effects but we think they are worth instituting anyway?

      I don’t know about conservatives, but I know that for me, personally, I take a policy proposal much more seriously if the person putting it forward at least acknowledges the negatives of a proposal. Even better if they have some thoughts about how to deal with the negatives, rather than just hand waving them away (see :Abortion foes who seem just fine with some women dying from ectopic pregnancies).Report

      • Ditto. I’d also add, “acknowledging the negatives of a proposal and if the advocate has thought of no solution (at the moment) to those negatives, at least acknowledging that he/she doesn’t.”Report

      • J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        What is the relationship between recedivism, and not being able to get jobs to support yourself, much less your family, or to rent a house, because you are an exconvict?

        I do t know the answer, but it can’t be none: if as a society we have [implicitly and silently] decided that exconvicts will be burdened with so many disadvantages that they cannot support themselves honestly, in the name of protecting ourselves from recidivists, we cannot then be surprised that excons have to recur to crime.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

          I was speaking generally.

          I’m not opposed to ban the box, although as I state above, it should be more like insurance rates & moving violations.Report

  4. Chip Daniels says:

    How many of the problems were the result of criminals, versus poor management and mistreatment of workers?

    Yes, there is tension between holding people accountable and wanting restorative justice, just as there is tension between freedom and security.

    There is an overwhelming tendency for people to be scrupulously strict with behavior by those different than ourselves, but be remarkably understanding and compassionate for those like us, or when the iron hand of the law appears like it will fall on us.Report

  5. greginak says:

    Oh yeah, Bunch doesn’t seem to understand restorative justice. It’s a good thing imho, but for restorative justice to occur it implies there was some sort of finding of guilt and conviction to then focus on restoring the victim. If there was no finding of guilt then, by definition, there is no victim for the guilty person to restore.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    NPR was talking a while back about the “ban the box” movement resulting in fewer African-Americans getting hired by companies that banned the box.

    Like, as in, this was a thing that actually happened.

    Who do you want to help the most?
    Will your policy actually help these people?
    Are you sure?Report

    • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

      Is it black people themselves that are calling for banning the box?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

        This question doesn’t seem particularly well-formed.

        Here are some people calling for banning the box.
        I do not know how representative of African-Americans they are.

        Here’s how the linked story ends:

        Sherman Justice, the former prisoner, says barriers to re-entry are everywhere. He says last year he was invited to a White House event for his group’s work on civil rights. He says he was preparing to go that morning, when he got a phone call at home.

        “I sat on the edge of the bed, and, you know, I mean, the tears start coming in,” he recalls.

        Justice was told he wouldn’t be able to go to the White House event after all. With his felony record, he hadn’t passed the security check.

        I don’t know what the solution is to this. I don’t know where to start.

        I do try to notice when something we attempt makes things worse, though. That seems important.Report

        • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

          All the advocates i’ve seen for BTB have been AfAm and often ex convicts. That seems like it should matter. How does it work in practice is a good question. If the answer is businesses just get more straight up discriminatory that seems like a problem worth tackling. If they are going to discriminate no matter what laws are present then THAT is a problem that must be addressed directly. If not then nothing will ever stop them from discriminating which seems bad.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            Let’s assume, for a second, that nothing will ever stop them from discriminating.

            Holy cow. This problem sucks!

            Forget that assumption. We should go back to assuming that we can pass a law or something… Let’s pass a law saying that they can’t discriminate. Ban the box, maybe.Report

            • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

              I know almost nothing about BTB, but I don’t think they naively assume that just passing a law to ban the box will solve discrimination. What I assume they hope for is that some people would get their foot in the door to at least have an interview.

              That won’t solve the problem of racial discrimination in hiring. Some employers, I’m sure, are inveterate racists who are looking for excuses not to hire minorities. Others might be of the sort that says, “well, if I found a good one, I’d hire them” but in practice never finds a “good one” because he/she doesn’t really want to.

              But I’m sure there are some who’d like to do the right thing or who don’t want to do the wrong thing–or more cynically, want to demonstrate for Equal Opportunity Employment purposes that they do the right thing at least sometimes–and maybe the almost automatic disqualifier of having a history might get some people to the stage where the employer is interested in seeing more from the applicant.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                We want mutually contradictory things.

                1) We want workers to be protected from capricious management.
                2) We want workers to be hired by this management that knows that if they’re going to hire someone, this someone will be protected by the stuff we did in Step One.

                Which one do we want more? Do we want to decrease risk for workers or do we want to decrease risk for businesses?Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m not sure I follow. Why does “wanting workers to be protected from capricious management” count as “stuff we [do]”? Wanting is not the same thing as doing.

                For your second paragraph, I admit those two are contradictory goals, at least potentially. To answer the question, I’d probably edge toward decreasing risk toward workers and increasing the risk for employers. This is a small departure from my previously stated preference for a policy that “creates more jobs, but bad ones, over the policy that leads to fewer jobs, but good ones,” but not an irreconcilable departure. I don’t particularly advocate banning the box so much as I advocate putting a time limit on the ban, mutatis mutandis for certain “position of trust” jobs.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Well, my immediate answer is something like the permatemp legislation passed in the 90’s. It turned permatemps into “managed services”.

                We passed laws to protect employees (and not in the “protect them by having handrails” sense of protecting them but in the “corporations have to have well-documented reasons to fire people” sense of protecting them).

                This is the result of one of the things we wanted.

                The other thing we want is for corporations to hire people. We want corporations to hire more of them.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                I hadn’t heard of the permatemp legislation you refer to.

                As for the rest, and with the exception of Montana, we are still a default “at will” employment system. I’d like to change that (after a probationary period), but as it stands now, most American employers, for most of the types of jobs for which I imagine an ex-con is most likely to be eligible, retain the at will employment prerogative. (I do admit that many of our labor laws create incentives for employers to develop internal processes that make it harder for them to fire people even if they technically retain the prerogative to do so at will…so it’s not quite as simple as I portray it.)

                Now to your point, I’ll admit that there’s a contradiction or at least two things working at cross-purposes. And to answer your question, I’d probably edge toward decreasing risk toward workers and increasing the risk for employers.Report

            • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

              So what is that supposed to mean in this life? If businesses will try to discriminate no matter what then i guess we can throw up our hands and watch some football. Or we can say that is an intolerable situation that harshly affects some peoples lives. Pass a law…well yeah that is one option. Some problems are hard but it seems like the various Civil Rights Acts did lead to significant improvements so there is that. What say you to the CRA’s?Report

            • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

              I’m much more fucking concerned about the business practice called “innocent questions that have racist answers”. Because that’s used to intentionally discriminate against races.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

      What was the mysterious mechanism that resulted in fewer black people being hired?

      Yeah sure we all know it was some sort of liberal policy, that much is assumed.

      But how exactly did the liberals force employers to hire few black folk?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Are you hoping I’ll say “racism” and then you’ll say “Yes! Racism!” and then we can agree that the world shouldn’t work the way it seems to work and then you can argue that this means that we need more government policies and I’ll argue that we should just stop doing the thing that we changed that made things worse and we’ll be talking past each other?Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

          Are you hoping to argue to a point where we can do nothing but accept the status quo?

          Because that seems the be the overall thrust of your posts on this topic.

          I mean, right now you sound like Vizzini patiently explaining to us why he can clearly not choose the cup in front of him, but neither can he choose the cup across from him.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            I’m more like the guy pointing out that while we may have Iocane Powder Resistance Privilege, the people who have to drink from the cups in front of them do not, and maybe we ought to be better at noticing when they die more often after we change the rules for how cups are distributed.

            If changing things makes things worse for people who are not us, bragging about not wanting to endorse the status quo is morally…

            Well, let’s say “problematic”. That word hasn’t shown up in the thread yet.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

              OK, so lets say we do notice this phenomenon.
              What should we do about it?

              Thats why i referenced Vizzini, because your comments just seem like an admiration of the complexity of the problem and a decided preference for the status quo, under the logic of “anything we do will make it worse”.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Can I say “the thing we want to do, when it was implemented in New York and New Jersey, made things worse and, therefore, doing nothing would be less bad than doing that thing”?

                Because that strikes me as significantly different than “anything we do will make it worse”.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        “What was the mysterious mechanism that resulted in fewer black people being hired?”

        Interesting. Tell me more about how it’s cool to have fewer black people being hired, just so long as we can show everyone how racist we aren’t, and how racist those guys are.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck says:

          I like how the passive voice is used here, that somehow “it results” in fewer black people being hired.

          The employers here are merely bystanders, with no agency, no responsibility for how it comes to be that fewer black people get hired.Report

          • notme in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            Employers don’t owe back people a job. If they choose to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage that’s not the employer’s problem.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to notme says:

              As someone might say, when ex-cons are not allowed to find jobs, this results in an increase in murders.

              It results. In murders.

              No one is committing these murders.

              They just…get committed, somehow.

              As a inevitable result, and natural consequence of not hiring these cons.

              And you wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?Report

            • Pillsy in reply to notme says:

              Black people are choosing to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by… being black, in @notme ‘s world.

              After all, this story is about how fewer black people are hired after a “ban the box” policy is enacted, not before, and those black people not being hired are not being hired because employers are making racist assumptions about their backgrounds in the absence of the background checkbox.

              Of course, the overall dynamic here, where liberals are being upbraided for underestimating how racist employers are, is kinda fascinating in and of itself.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Pillsy says:

                Okay, so they’re racists. They’re racists, raaaaacists, DIRTY GOD DAMN RACISTS.

                Feel better? Good.

                Now. The policy was put into effect and fewer black people are being hired now. Did the policy have the intended effect? Should it continue?

                Maybe we should make it illegal to not hire black people who apply for a job. I’m sure that will fix the problem.Report

              • notme in reply to Pillsy says:

                No, wrong again. People, black white, etc., put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by being felons.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

      This is the study I believe you are referring to:

      …employers who check criminal backgrounds are more likely to hire African American workers, especially men. This effect is stronger among those employers who report an aversion to hiring those with criminal records than among those who do not.

      Link via Marginal RevolutionReport

      • PD Shaw in reply to PD Shaw says:

        Or a more recent study:

        Agan and Starr sent out approximately 15,000 fake job applications to employers in New York and New Jersey. Otherwise identical applications were randomized across distinctively black and white (male) names. Half the applications were sent just before and another half sent just after ban the box policies took effect. Not all firms used the box even when legal so Agan and Starr use a powerful triple-difference strategy to estimate causal effects (the black-white difference in callback rates between stores that did and did not use the box before and after the law).

        Agan and Starr find that banning the box significantly increases racial discrimination in callbacks.


    • notme in reply to Jaybird says:

      Exactly, if you can’t vet folks then don’t take the chance of hiring them. I guess that’s a negative liberals didn’t account for.Report

      • Pillsy in reply to notme says:

        If you can’t vet black folks, that is. @notme thinks it’s fine if white folks go unvetted. Just like he thinks black athletes should be punished for not respecting patriotic rituals, and white athletes shouldn’t be punished after being convicted of sexual assault.Report

        • notme in reply to Pillsy says:

          Gee, did I say that? Libruls throwing around accustions of racism, how pathetic.Report

          • Brit in reply to notme says:

            What would you call being unwilling to employ black people without knowing their criminal record, but beibg willing to employ white people without knowing their criminal recrord?Report

          • Pillsy in reply to notme says:

            Yes, you did, since the top-level comment was specifically about how black people were less likely to be hired following “ban the box”.Report

            • notme in reply to Pillsy says:

              No, I didn’t say that white folks shouldn’t be vetted. You can apologize at anytime. I like the box.Report

              • Pillsy in reply to notme says:

                No, I didn’t say that white folks shouldn’t be vetted.

                No, you said that it makes perfect sense that employers would be less likely to hire black people if they can’t vet them.

                You know how I know Hillary Clinton was right on the money about half of Trump supporters being deplorable? Because AFAIK, two Trump supporters comment here, and you’re one of them.Report

              • notme in reply to Pillsy says:

                Once again, either show where I said anything racist or retract it. Simply saying I can understand another person’s thought process isn’t racist.Report

              • Pillsy in reply to notme says:

                You can pretend you didn’t mean what you obviously meant, but I’m not going to go along with it.Report

              • notme in reply to Pillsy says:

                Either put up or shut up. Please quote me saying something racist. I guess you’d rather lie about me and then run away when called out.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                Can I quote you saying something wrong?

                “Exactly, if you can’t vet folks then don’t take the chance of hiring them.”

                You can vet folks all you want. The “box” is a problem for two reasons:
                1. If applicants volunteer the information, it can be used to discriminate against them regardless of whether their history is relevant.
                2. If they answer falsely and are found out, it can be grounds for firing (again, regardless of whether their history is relevant).

                No one is seeking to outlaw background checks.

                So… you’re wrong.Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                Did I say say anyone was seeking to outlaw background checks? No, so its you who are wrong once again. It isn’t your job to defend Pillsy.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                Why can’t employers vote folks?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                …vet folks.Report

              • notme in reply to notme says:

                Pillsy did you ever find my racist statement?Report

              • Pillsy in reply to notme says:

                Yes I did. It’s that employers are just being sensible to refuse to specifically hire black people in the absence of the box. Your insistence that it isn’t a racist statement is proof of nothing but your disingenuousness.Report

              • notme in reply to Pillsy says:

                Once again, either show where I said anything racist or retract it. Simply saying I can understand another person’s thought process isn’t racist.Report

              • notme in reply to notme says:

                Still looking pillsy?Report

  7. greginak says:

    Looking over the convo one thing to point out that this idea, BTB, is meant as a reaction to the decades of police/crim justice system treatment of minorities. If there wasn’t the same history of convicting POC at such egregious rates this rule would be less important or even not that good of an idea. That should be kept in mind.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      That doesn’t really move the needle for me. While there is a racial component, either we want to give cons a second chance or we don’t. Giving white cons a second chance because we have to in order to give black cons a second chance is where things get pretty muddled.Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        Oh it should apply to all cons in general, they should get a second chance. I was just noting the impetuous for this policy. It’s not just some deep seated liberal desire that has been around for years. We should want convicts to be able to reintegrate into society, that is best for everybody.Report

  8. Chip Daniels says:

    Everyone here is aware that most large defense contractors have at various times admitted to committing deliberate fraud against the US government, right? And they all still get new contracts?
    And that HSBC bank admitted to laundering terrorist cash, and was allowed to skate free?

    Maybe this is why the “Lawn Order” arguments about crime always seem so absurdly flimsy.

    Because when you are in the dominant majority and wealthy, you float atop a bottomless pool of assumed innocence and forgiveness, a never ending buffet of second chances and excuses.Report

  9. Oscar Gordon says:

    Aside from people on parole/probation, and the few who have criminal backgrounds that would clearly disqualify them from working at a specific job*, the utility of the criminal background box is really because employers don’t want to have to pay for a background check.

    I mean, perhaps I’m wrong, but while criminal histories are essentially public information, it takes quite a bit of work to search the relevant databases and verify all the identifying information to make sure a given person did actually commit a given crime. There is a cost to the employer to do that, so if an employer is not willing to take on that cost, then what they are trying to protect isn’t really worth it, now is it?

    Which gets us to, if an employer can’t ask, but isn’t willing to spend the money or effort to check, and that is somehow discouraging them from hiring a minority person, then the issue is less about protecting the workplace, and more about not hiring minority convicts.

    ETA: For the L&O types, you can’t have an extremely punitive criminal justice system, and an extremely punitive post conviction social order, and then complain about recidivism. You don’t get to have it both ways.Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    What percentage of low-level work that an ex-con would be most qualified for is stuff that either handles money or handles merchandise that is easily sold on Craigslist?

    I mean, sure, *MY* job has me walking around and working with systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but I couldn’t take any of the stuff I have lying around and sell it. Forget pennies on the dollar, nobody wants, for example, a server rack. (Well, there are a handful of folks who might, but you get the gist.)

    But if I’m trying to get a job stocking shelves at Target/Home Depot or working a register at the mall somewhere, I’m handling either money or stuff that I could easily move (how much easier is it to sell a sawzall or a television on craigslist than my silly example of a server rack?) and so it seems that there’s a disproportionate amount of “shrink”, I guess we’d call it now, that retail work deals with that is probably going to result in retail work being most against banning the box.

    (How much detail are they allowed to get into? I could see a manager type not caring that a person was busted with a bag of weed but caring very much that a person was busted for stealing from a cash register at her previous job and I don’t know that I have the ground to say that the manager type should not take that sort of thing into consideration when hiring.)Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

      nobody wants, for example, a server rack.

      Except Donald Trump at a tacky chicken wing restaurant.Report

    • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:


      But your job really does nor involve assembling server racks, like other people assemble vacuum cleaners. Your job is actually setting systems capable of managing data, and telling other systems what data they need and what to do with it.

      I can imagine that a hypothetical someone capable of doing your job (I don’t know, a Mr. Jaywolf) that would perhaps leave behind a small instruction in his next job. Like, take one cent per week of every third account in the bank, and wire it to this little, insignificant account of mine in the Caymans, or send a blank copy of all emails with the word Russia in it to this other email address. Something you could also do, if it wasn’t for your world renowned honesty.

      Now, suppose Mr, Jaywolf, is an excon. I’m not saying he did any of the above things. Perhaps he just got into one too many fistfights in the bar, perhaps he is the classical innocent loser. Question is: Would the people that hire Jaybird hire Mr, Jaywolf? After all, is not as it there’s loose change in the areas where Mr, Jaywolf will be, and no one will really steal a server rack.

      I guess the answer is that Mr. Jaywolf will have as much trouble finding a job in your place of work as the guy nicked for selling lose cigarettes in the street will have getting a job in a Walmart.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to J_A says:

        He would put the decimal point in the wrong place or something, he always does that.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to J_A says:

        I tend to agree.

        But the guy who could do my job might not be working where I work… but the skills I happen to have are in enough demand that he’d probably get a job that needs computer guys just as bad, but can’t afford to pay Industry Standard but can afford to pay Under The Industry Standard (But We’ll Overlook Stuff Like Bar Fights).Report

        • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

          There’s little distance from here to saying that if after paying its debt to society he still can’t come back to society, but that’s ok because he’s an ex-con, and there’s nothing ex-cons can ever do to redeem themselves, to if he’s never going to redeem himself we might as well jail him again because recidivism.

          I blame John CalvinReport

    • PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

      The drug issue is related though. When I was researching acceptable drug-testing policies a few years ago, I read that something like half of employers had drug-testing policies, which was much higher than I had anticipated. There were a number of competing legal policies under my state’s laws including support for rehab that made enforcement less than straight-forward. Whatever the merits of the laws and employer-liability concerns (all of which make sense to me in isolation), they made the policies fraught with countervailing preferences.

      The short of it is, if you have a drug-testing policy, it would make perfect sense to prefer someone without a prior drug arrest over one that does not. And maybe that’s half of all jobs.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

        Well, I have several minds on that. The first is some variant of “Seriously, I have been made to take a drug test for every single job I’ve tried out for since the restaurant (well, one merely told me that I didn’t have to right now but I signed a paper agreeing that they could ask me for one at will and failing to provide one would be seen as a letter of resignation).”

        Blockbuster had me take a HAIR test.

        The second is that back in 2014, I called a bunch of businesses and corporations around town and asked them for their drug testing policies following Amendment 64’s passage.

        Out of all of the calls I made, and I made a lot, only one company was willing to talk to me. Their policy was “if it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem”. Everybody else gave me the cold shoulder.

        The third is something to the effect of the degree to which we should hold a corporation culpable if they don’t have a drug test policy and something bad happens. Like, say, the guy running the machine press crushes another guy’s arm. Or his own, maybe. To what extent should the corporation be sue-able? To what extent is the corporation saying “we have a drug free workplace policy!” a defense against being sued when a guy with residual weed in his system crushes an arm?

        Beyond that, let’s say we loosen things just a little and say “well, if you’re not running a machine press, maybe we won’t test people…” and think about what that policy would look like. Here’s my best guess: “Desk workers can smoke weed, floor workers can’t.”

        And then I start thinking about whether that would present identically to disparate impact.

        The solution, seems to me, is that we need people to not enjoy things like pleasure unless they get it from accomplishing something worthwhile.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to PD Shaw says:

        How much of that is incentivized by insurance? Do liability and other types of insurance companies offer lower rates to employers who screen with drug testing? I really don’t know the answer to these questions. I just kind of assumed that was in the mix.Report

        • PD Shaw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          Dunno, in my situation, which I will keep purposely vague, an employee of a home repair company (think plumbing, electrical, or handyman) showed up at the customer’s home obviously very drunk or high and the customer complained to the employer who fired him/her. From the business’s perspective it wasn’t directly a liability issue, it was that they get business from referrals, and it was quite unlikely that this customer was going to describe their experience without emphasizing inappropriate conduct. They looked into drug-testing more as a deterrent, in the face of behavior they had not previously imagined.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          There’s also the whole issue of how some contracts with the State or the Federal Gummint require a Drug-Free Workplace.

          These contracts can be pretty sweeet and if a pre-req is to make your workers piss in a cup? Hells yeah, you pay for the urinalysis. Besides, do you really want to hire anybody who can’t stay clean for a week before a drug test?Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

      This assumes that recidivism among ex-convicts who find gainful employment is significantly higher than the general population.

      We know recidivism is high among ex-convicts, but we also know a lot of that is tied closely with the lack of legal opportunities to earn a living. So before you can sell the idea that criminal history is important in low impact jobs, you need to prove it. You should also look at time horizons. Certainly we can be wary of the guy still under supervision, or fresh off of it, but after 3 years of no trouble? 5 years?Report

      • notme in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Society doesn’t own these folks a job. If you choose to place yourself at a competitive disadvantage by being a felon, that’s your problem.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

          Where did Oscar say society owes them a job? Quotes, please.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to notme says:

          I forgot, for you, police never arrest innocent individuals, prosecutors never charge those innocent people, or overcharge guilty people to force a plea deal. Ideas like underfunded public defenders & three felonies a day are total fiction, and everyone who ever got convicted totally deserved exactly what they got, because the justice system is perfect.Report

          • notme in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            So what’s your point assuming you have one?Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to notme says:

              My point is that you live in a castle in your mind where it’s all black and white, where there can never be nuance.

              So I forgot that arguing with you is like teaching pigs to sing.

              It wastes my times and annoys the pig.Report

              • notme in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I forgot that you have to fall back on cheap personal insults.

                I’m glad you could finally articulate your point. That being said I know the criminal justice system isn’t perfect however I still think the box provides valuable infornation.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I *was* gonna say, you’d be surprised at the number of different ways you can become a felon by doing something that’s entirely reasonable and supportable.

            Like, if that asshole parks in YOUR SPOT and you take the lugnuts off his wheels so he can’t go anywhere, like, you wanna PARK HERE dude, well now you’re FUCKING PARKED, good luck when Parking Enforcement comes by and you can’t move your car!Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        This assumes that recidivism among ex-convicts who find gainful employment is significantly higher than the general population.

        It’s like getting divorced. Having a first divorce is a significant indicator for whether you will have a second.

        As for time horizons, I couldn’t agree more. I like the whole “record expunged” thing. We should do that for people who come clean and, to all outside appearances, stay clean.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          The divorce analogy seems strained.

          If the guy you hired to offer over-the-phone customer service via a script had a record for personal pot possession, than maybe he has a higher risk of getting arrested against for person pot possession.

          But you aren’t engaging with him in a relationship predicated on him not possessing pot. You are engaging with him in a relationship predicated on him offering over-the-phone customer service via a script.

          Someone’s likelihood of divorce is only really relevant if you want to marry them an avoid divorce.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

            My humor there was a little oblique, I admit.

            One of the big problems is that we are currently in a bit of a labor glut.

            Let’s say that you have a choice between two applicants. One has a criminal record. The other doesn’t. All other things being equal, who do you choose to work for you?

            I mean, imagine that it’s *YOUR* business. Who do you hire?

            If you have your pick of who you can and who you can’t hire, I imagine that you’ll pick the best candidates who are willing to apply to the crap job you hung a sign for… and “having a record” is going to color your opinions of the people who dropped a resume in your basket.

            Maybe you’d be willing to overlook a pot bust… but *YOU* smoked pot. You never got arrested for it. You were smart. You smoked it behind closed doors. You bought from people you trusted rather than from strangers in the park. You weren’t even particularly smart. You just weren’t stupid. How do you get busted for pot anyway? It’s 2016! Yeah, hire the gal who similarly managed to not get arrested.

            Now imagine your business being so busy that you need to hire somebody and hire her *YESTERDAY*. You’re losing money by not hiring someone. Imagine that nobody is applying. Finally, someone drops off a resume and, all things being equal, she’s pretty qualified.

            But she’s got a record.

            This calculus is a lot different than the one where you’ve got your pick of applicants, ain’t it?

            Which brings me to the question of whether any of our policies are contributing to this labor glut we have where employers are taking their picks of applicants when hiring… and if we changed/stopped these policies, we’d move closer to a situation where it’s a seller’s market rather than a buyer’s.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

              “All other things being equal, who do you choose to work for you?”

              Sure, I probably take the one with the clean record over the one without. But how often are “all things equal”?

              I’m not arguing that someone’s legal history is never relevant. I just struggle with the binary.

              Question: How about an application question that says, “Have you ever sued an employer for sexual harassment?”

              Because I bet someone who has previously sued an employer for sexual harassment is more likely to sue a future employer for sexual harassment. That seems like a pretty reasonable risk to try to avoid…Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not arguing that someone’s legal history is never relevant. I just struggle with the binary.

                Well, the weird thing is that we know that we ought to think that it ought to be irrelevant if a handful of conditions have been met. Was it long ago? Was it for something we don’t mind? (“Hey, they arrested everybody who was in the bar! I was only in there because I was getting directions to the closest church!”) Well, we can say “okay, we can ignore that.”

                But we still have it categorized as something we’d have to ignore.

                The gal who doesn’t have a record? Nothing to ignore in the first place.

                As for someone who sued his or her employer… on one level we know “hey, if that person’s boss was inappropriate, it’s *GOOD* that this person sued! This is important for society!” But I’d also understand why a new potential boss would be nervous about hiring him or her.

                We’re playing an iterated prisoner’s dilemma game. Someone comes in with a giant red flag that says “I defected the last time I played this game”, it can make people nervous. Even if they defected in retaliation to their former partner defecting.

                It sucks.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Do employers simply ask if an applicant went to college? Or do they ask where they went to school and what they studied and how they performed?
                Do they only ask if they’ve worked in the field? Or do they ask about where and how long and what skills it required or tools they used?

                This what I mean by the binary. Everyone with a criminal record goes in one bucket and everyone without goes in another and the former doesn’t get a call and the latter probably does.

                If an employer gets 1000 applications for one position and only has time to read 500 resumes, there are probably worse ways to apply that initial filter than “the box”. So I recognize that the strength or weakness of a particular labor market is a factor. I just think, generally speaking, “has a criminal record” is too broad a brush to paint with.

                Should we “ban the box”? I really don’t know. Do I support more nuance over broader strokes? Giving folks with criminal records opportunities for employment? Employers’ ability to ascertain information about a candidate relevant to the job (and maybe even with a wide berth given to relevant)? Yes, yes, and yes. I don’t know what that means from a policy standpoint though.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                It’s been a while, but my last couple of jobs asked stuff like level of education and made distinctions between getting a BA and a BS. (Like, I was explicitly asked “Bachelor’s of what?” which then inspired the whole “What’s your degree in?” conversation in which I had to talk rather fast about the benefits of a Classical Education for IT. These are both jobs that I ended up getting, though.)

                I also had the benefit of having worked in the field for years and years and years and knowing about how to do stuff like research problems, research patches, install patches, and scanning to see if the patches resolved the problem.

                The big problem was breaking in in the first place, back when my resume needed to go back all the way to my first summer job at Age 13 to fill space. Back when I was trying to break out of the restaurant world and into the corporate. Back when I couldn’t point to 10 years of experience and could only point to a philosophy degree.

                I was very, very lucky to be looking for a job right at the beginning of the IT bubble in the mid 90’s where employers needed workers so very badly.

                Before Microsoft settled Vizcaino v. Microsoft. Before H1Bs were really a thing yet. Before “outsourcing” was even a fad, let alone a megatrend.

                If you wanted to make sure that businesses were able to pick and choose who they would deign to hire for any given position, what policies would you implement to make sure that they had no shortage of people to pick from?

                How many of those policies have we implemented?Report

            • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

              I think the “all things being equal” framing overdetermines things. What about my point elsewhere in this thread that banning the box might do some good to get a candidate further along into the interview process? Maybe the employer in that case might discover that all things are not equal in a particular case and find out the person with a criminal history is actually the better of the candidates?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                What about my point elsewhere in this thread that banning the box might do some good to get a candidate further along into the interview process?

                Is this measurable? If so, have they measured it?
                If it turns out that the measurements don’t seem to indicate that banning the box results in getting the candidates we’re trying to help actually get a candidate further along into the interview process, then what?Report

              • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                we’re probably looking at more white criminals getting hired, at the expense of non-criminal black people.
                … but maybe not.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                What’s our goal, again?

                If we don’t know what we want, we’re never, ever, going to be able to measure it.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                From the looks of things, what people want is to Not Be Racist.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                If it does turn out that way (and I haven’t read the NPR article you linked to), then the next step is to ask how much harm does banning the box cause employers (or as you say in another comment, how much does banning the box increase the employer’s risk). If it’s only a little bit, then maybe I’m inclined toward putting a time limit on the question.

                I’m not convinced, by the way, that there’s a legislative solution to this issue. Banning the box (or a time limit) might help and I might support it, but it won’t by itself solve the problem of it being really hard to get back into society once released from prison.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                I’m not convinced, by the way, that there’s a legislative solution to this issue.

                This is the root of the problem.

                If there is a legislative solution to the issue, it’s something like “legalize pot and decriminalize a number of other silly laws that only happen to be enforced in poor parts of town” and keep people from being arrested in the first place.

                But then we get to still have this conversation about guys who went to prison for assault, or grand theft auto, or murder or something and then we get to ask about the extent to which a business thinking about hiring a guy who (insert horrible story here) should be prevented from knowing about (horrible story).Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                The question you have to answer for yourself (and that we have to collectively answer as a society) is this:

                When a person has completed state supervision, have they paid their debt to society, yes or no?

                If your answer is yes, then we are done, you don’t get to ask about past criminal history except in some very select positions.

                If the answer is no, then I have to wonder why the person is done with state supervision?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                There are a lot of “as a society” that we’re talking about here.

                There’s “the government” stuff. Stuff like “can this person vote or buy a gun or whatever?” and then there’s stuff like “should we use the force of law to prevent businesses from asking people if they went to jail for (horrible thing)?”

                Because the latter seems like something that makes us, as a society, say “man, someone else should do something about that.”

                “Would you hire him to run your cash register? Stock your shelves?”

                “Oh, *I* wouldn’t. But someone else should.”Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:


                How about you answer the question for yourself, first? Let’s ignore the specific question of employment and start with the larger question of, “Is the debt paid?”.

                As to the question of employment, no one is saying anyone owes these guys a job, but we do owe them the opportunity to find gainful employment so they can successfully reintegrate. Perhaps BTB isn’t the right answer, but at it’s basic BTB isn’t preventing employers from asking the question, it’s merely forcing the question away from the application and to the interview. Are NY/NJ preventing the employers from ever asking?

                If an employer can ask at the interview, and they are hiring fewer minorities because they don’t feel they can vet the applicants, then they are full of it.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                This is what I want to explore.

                The box allows the employer to avoid liability (a reasonable want) but without incurring any real cost. I mean, the only cost I can really think of is the opportunity cost* of missing out on a potentially good employee.

                If you shift the way in which they find that information out, then you impose a cost on their seeking that liability avoidance. That might cause them to only assume that cost if it is worth it.

                Imagine you are hiring a ticket taker at your sports stadium. Not security, just the guy who scans the ticket in the machine and waves you in. This guy doesn’t handle money, is never alone, and the machine pretty much prevents him from sneaking people in. Do you really care if this guy smokes pot? Hell, even if he has some more serious stuff on his record… does that really expose you to much liability? I can’t imagine it does. So is the employer going to shell out $100** per applicant just to get information that doesn’t really matter and which provides them essentially no value? Probably not.

                Now, if you are hiring bank tellers. Or home care nurses… yea, you are exposed to much more liability and are going to happily incur that cost to protect your ass.

                * Am I using this term properly here?
                ** Or whatever it costs to run a background checkReport

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:


                Exactly. If the job is such that the cost of a background check is warranted (the check is required by law, or something an insurance carrier requires as a condition of the policy), then yes, asking is prudent. No point in processing an application that an employer will be forced to discard due to external conditions.

                But if no such conditions exist, then at least save the question for the interview. Ideally for the end of the interview. If the candidate is promising, an employer may ask, & decide the offense is something that can be dealt with.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                “Is the debt paid?”

                Holy crap. Is this a tough question or what?

                To whom is the debt owed? “Society”?
                If we’re not talking about a bag of weed but an actual bad crime, there’s a victim. Has restitution been made to the victim? (Can restitution be made to the victim? Manslaughter, for example, makes such a thing very, very difficult.)
                If we’re not being metaphysical here but merely asking the much easier question of “the sentence was 10 years, the guy was in the clink for 8 1/2 and got off early for good behavior. He was even a trustee for the last half of his imprisonment… according to the definition of being in jail for the duration of his sentence, more of less… has he paid his debt?” then I’d say… yeah. If that’s the definition we’re using. Sure.

                If all we’re talking about is BTB just preventing the question being asked on the pad of applications that you buy in the “pad of applications” aisle at Staples, eh. Yeah. I suppose I can see that as something that might be worth trying. “Turn me down to my face rather than peremptory tossing of my application into the round file.”

                But they tried it.
                It only worked for certain demographics.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                I didn’t intend for it to be an easy question. To be honest, it’s one I don’t think most people really think about, on either side of the aisle. So I challenge everyone to think about it and decide if you think the sentences mandated by legislatures and handed down by judges are sufficient, excessive, or inadequate.

                If you feel they are adequate or excessive (in general), then you have an obligation to accept that a person paid their debt and is ready to re-enter society as a full member. If you feel they are inadequate, then you need to decide what is adequate.

                Because at the end of the day, for the bulk of crimes people are convicted of (largely victimless crimes), it isn’t fair to those people to give them freedom, but put full participation so very far out of reach and dangle it on a vague time horizon.

                And if BTB has a nasty unintended consequence (assuming NY/NJ didn’t prohibit asking about history at all), then I’d go with having conviction histories fall ‘off the record’ after certain time frames, such that a casual check won’t show it, and only certain jobs can run a deeper check. Then people can know, “I gotta stay outta trouble for 3 years, and work crap jobs, and then it falls away and I can get a better job/student aid & have a better life.”

                Because if all we are going to say is, “too bad you were stupid and unable to successfully navigate the system to your benefit, your life is screwed forever”, we might as well keep them locked up, or just shoot them.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                If the answer is no, then I have to wonder why the person is done with state supervision?

                We certainly shouldn’t relax our incarceration rates or sentence lengths (it would send a bad signal to the evildoers…) but we ALSO shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that having been appropriately punished means that the debt is settled. It isn’t. How could it be? (#Americancriminaljusticephilosophy)Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater says:

                You need a facetious tagReport

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I hear ya Oscar but I’m not sure “facetious” is the right word here. I wasn’t kidding or making light of the issue. I think there are lots (and lots and lots..) of USAmericans who view things that way. For a certain set of crimes and/or types of people anyway.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                J_A’s insight about blaming John Calvin has been sticking with me for a while.

                This is his fault.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’ll go find a Cleric, we can resurrect his ass and beat him with a fire hose for a while, until we all feel better.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                “But then we get to still have this conversation about guys who went to prison for assault, or grand theft auto, or murder or something and then we get to ask about the extent to which a business thinking about hiring a guy who (insert horrible story here) should be prevented from knowing about (horrible story).”

                Maybe I’m being naive here, but if the box is banned, would this necessarily preclude employers from conducting background checks via other means?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                So make employers get the guy through two rounds of interviews before they find out that he got arrested for (insert example here).

                I suppose that that might be good, if the example we pick is something like “selling weed in college to a narc”. Hey. Who didn’t?

                If the example we pick requires trigger warnings, we’re in a different place entirely.

                But BTB is probably easier than ending the drug war.Report

          • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

            You are engaging with him in a relationship predicated on him offering over-the-phone customer service via a script.

            Sure but I want the people that are best going to serve my customers and help my business. Why should I risk my business to employ Dan Dopehead just to make some liberal happy?Report

            • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

              “Why should I risk my business to employ Dan Dopehead just to make some liberal happy?”

              No one is asking you to do that.Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                Liberals want to keep probitive information from employers that could help them pick the best employees, just so they can live in their fair la la land.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                It is amazing how you are able to crawl into the minds of seemingly everyone but yourself.Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                Ah yes, another one of your pathetic non answers. Are you still incapable of understanding why a business may not want to employ a criminal?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                You didn’t ask a question earlier. How can I answer a non-question?Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

                notme:“Why should I risk my business to employ Dan Dopehead just to make some liberal happy?”

                Kazzy: “No one is asking you to do that.”

                Well. I guess you’re right that they aren’t asking; they’re telling.

                That you don’t like the descriptors notme is using does not mean that they’re invalid. Maybe they’re chosen in a way that presents things in the worst possible light, but they aren’t wrong.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:


                Sure they are.

                First off, who is Dan Dopehead? Oh yea… not an actual person.

                Second off, where did anyone say a person with a record HAD to be hired? All that is being argued is the merits of banning the box.

                ETA: Does banning the box mean that NotMe — or anyone else — HAS to hire any particular person?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Also, see my comment above (and elsewhere) in which I make clear I don’t have a firm opinion on banning the box.

                What I do have a firm opinion on is NotMe’s rhetorical BS… in which he misrepresents what others say and refuses to take accountability for his own words.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

                This is in no way a response to my post. Try again.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to notme says:

              There’s no point hiring Dan Dopehead to do customer service when he’s only going to quit as soon as he gets offered a software development job that pays five times as much. Judging by my experience among dopeheads anyway.Report

  11. Aaron David says:

    Well, back in my days of bossing teamsters, we hired through temp agencies, which specifically ask if you have a felony conviction. Then, if they got picked up by us we did a full background check on the prospective employee. This was because all of our people had to be HIPAA compliant, which meant background check. In other words, we used the agency to weed out most of the people who would ignore the question, then ran it for real when we picked them up. It was done this way to keep the companies cost down, as every single person had to be backgrounded. And a felony would get you kicked out

    There was a big shake out when we bought a competitor and ran a background check across the board, management and labor. A lot of people who should have been HIPAA were not. Suprise.

    Point being, there are often background considerations that require someone be able to pass a background check, and this is an easy way to screen for that.Report