Employers are less likely to demand background checks in job postings than in previous years, a trend that may open up more positions to those with criminal records. But the trend is more pronounced in lower-skilled jobs.

In the wake of a story citing our data in The New York Times (As Labor Pool Shrinks, Prison Time Is Less of a Hiring Hurdle), we’ve had a lot of interest in the data behind the story. Using our database of more than 700 million current and historical job postings, we looked at the percentage of job postings that required a background check going back to 2012. Across all occupations, the percentage dropped from 8.7% in 2012 to 7.9% in 2017. The peak demand for background checks was in 2014.

Interestingly, however, the biggest drops have been in lower-skill jobs. The percentage of postings for maids/housekeepers requiring background checks dropped nearly by half (from 10.2% in 2012 to 5.6% in 2017) while the percentage of janitorial jobs requiring checks dropped from 21.2% to 16.6% over the same period.

Background checks decline in lower-skill jobs, 2012-17

Occupation2017 PostingsPercent requesting background check, 201220132014201520162017
All Occupations28,935,7278.7%8.7%8.9%8.1%8.7%7.9%
Laborer / Warehouse Worker323,27416.6%19.9%17.8%15.6%15.2%14.1%
Nursing Assistant225,9788.3%11.9%11.7%9.4%8.8%7.2%
Maid / Housekeeping Staff141,41410.2%10.1%9.3%7.1%7.0%5.6%
Janitor / Cleaner124,93021.2%19.3%19.6%21.3%18.9%16.6%
Operations Manager / Supervisor119,52110.4%12.4%11.4%9.5%8.6%7.2%
Office Manager92,4907.3%7.3%7.9%6.6%6.7%5.9%
Hotel Desk Clerk92,2147.3%8.3%7.5%4.2%5.1%3.9%
Laboratory Technician79,3507.0%8.4%8.3%6.8%7.2%5.9%
Data Entry Clerk78,1378.3%7.6%7.8%6.2%5.9%6.0%
Scheduler / Operations Coordinator59,81611.1%9.5%10.3%9.0%9.6%9.0%

Some occupations, however, have seen demand for background checks increase—mostly more skilled positions. It’s possible that employers see low-skill jobs as less risky compared to high-skill jobs, where workers might have access to sensitive information or company accounts.

Selected roles where background checks increased, 2012-14

Occupation2017 PostingsPercent requiring background checks, 201220132014201520162017
Business Development / Sales Manager264,0925.6%6.2%6.8%6.2%7.7%6.9%
Electrical Engineer91,0379.0%9.6%10.2%9.6%12.0%12.2%
Human Resources Manager61,2255.5%6.0%7.1%5.9%7.3%7.8%
Graphic Designer / Desktop Publisher35,7624.6%3.9%5.5%4.3%5.3%6.2%
Manufacturing Engineer33,8405.8%4.4%3.5%4.1%5.3%6.4%

There are several possible reasons for the trend. A major factor, as noted by the Times story, is that the overall labor market has tightened up and that employers can’t afford to be as selective. With the overall employment rate at 4.1%, many employers are struggling to find workers, particularly in lower-skilled positions. For many employers, that means looking at workers they might have passed over in previous years, including those with criminal records.

It’s important to note that the positions seeing drops in background check requests are not those where checks are required by law, such as public safety or child care positions. In addition, some 30 states have now adopted some form of “ban the box” law, removing criminal history questions from initial employment applications or limiting background checks to cases where an offer has already been made. Most primarily involve public employment, but in ten states, private employers are also covered under these laws.

Critics of background checks say they make it more difficult for those with criminal convictions to find work and successfully re-enter society. A recent study (also citing Burning Glass data) found that “ban the box” laws increased employment in high-crime neighborhoods, but that employers also raised other requirements to compensate.

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