The surprising way neighborhood crime influences employers’ hiring behavior

Compared to their white peers, male African American job applicants have long had steeper obstacles to overcome in the hiring process. Even with identical qualifications, for example, black applicants are significantly less likely to get called for job interviews than white or Hispanic candidates.

New research by Questrom’s Sanaz Mobasseri suggests that spikes in violent crime in an employer’s neighborhood can lead to still bleaker odds for black applicants. “When there’s been an uptick in violence in a given neighborhood, employers may be even less likely to call [black applicants] back for an interview.”

To study the way that recent increases in neighborhood violent crime (such as robberies and assault) affect hiring practices, Mobasseri created fake resumes with names that signaled the applicant’s race as white, black, or Hispanic. The resumes also contained signals of an applicant’s criminal record or lack thereof.

She submitted these resumes—which all showcased similar qualifications—to nearly 200 restaurants the hiring for “back of the house” jobs. Then, she mapped callback rates for applicants to the recent and historical violent crime rates linked to the neighborhood location of each restaurant.

Overall, her study found that callback rates were 11 percentage points lower for black job applicants than for white or Hispanic applicants. For employers located in areas experiencing recent spikes in violent crime, black applicants with no criminal record received callbacks just 11 percent of the time—almost identical to black applicants with criminal records. The findings, Mobasseri says, have troubling implications. “Consciously or unconsciously, [employers] may associate violence with being black,” she says.

The study makes it clear that hiring practices are influenced by far more than simply an applicant’s qualifications. “Exposure to prominent but everyday events, like violent crime, may have an effect on other parts of our lives that seem disconnected—like who we’re hiring,” she says. “Our behaviors happen in a broader physical and temporal context.”

Click here to read the full research paper. 

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