In an attempt to help black people and ex-convicts land jobs, policymakers have increased the employment prospects of white ex-convicts. Professor Alex Tabarrok explains this case of public policy’s unintended consequences in a post over at Marginal Revolution.

The policy:

Policymakers banned the “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” box from job applications. This was intended to help ex-convicts get jobs in particular, and to help black people, who are more likely than white people to have a criminal background.

The result:

Racial discrimination in callbacks for job applications went up.

Wait, why?

Because in the absence of the box, employers used racial cues as a proxy for eliminating ex-convicts. Before the box was banned, black and white candidates without criminal histories were on a fairly equal level in callbacks. After the box was banned, employers still wanted to avoid calling back ex-convicts, so they ruled out candidates from the race which was more likely to have a criminal history.

As a result, the people hurt most by the policy are black candidate with no criminal history, and the people most benefited are white candidates with a past conviction.

Professor Tabarrok explains the study which demonstrated the increase in discrimination in more detail in his post at Marginal Revolution. The whole thing is worth a read.