The Market Is “Banning The Box”
Aaron M. Renn, City Journal
The American economic expansion is finally accomplishing one of the country’s most needed social improvements: getting the long-term unemployed reattached to the labor market. Income inequality gets much of the press today, but as Harvard economist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Ed Glaeser points out, long-term joblessness is the more serious problem. The unemployed face a heightened risk of serious ills ranging from physical maladies and mental health problems to divorce.
Rising long-term joblessness, particularly among prime, working-age men (25 to 54), has been a corrosive trend. A Kansas City Federal Reserve study found that the number of men in that key demographic not in the labor force increased from 4.6 million in 2006 to 7.1 million in 2016. We’re now seeing early signs that this trend may be reversing. Reports describe how a tightening labor market is finally tearing down employer-erected barriers to hiring. The Wall Street Journalrecently noted, for example, that firms are increasingly adopting a “no experience required” policy to try to fill jobs, even eliminating the requirement for a college degree in some cases.
Up to now, observers had pointed to the rise in state-mandated occupational licensing as a factor in slow economic growth. Without help from government, though, the private sector itself had become prey to creeping credentialism. Online job postings frequently include a long list of detailed requirements, with most applicants summarily rejected by algorithms or offshore résumé reviewers. Nearly two decades of a recessionary or anemic jobs economy allowed companies to become prima donnas of hiring, and a generation of human resources and hiring managers were marinated in this environment.
Now marketplace discipline is forcing them to change. Anything that reduces an unhealthy fixation on the length of a CV is positive for economic dynamism. The marketplace is also helping those who found themselves with situations that previously rendered them all but unemployable. Anyone with an employment gap was effectively exiled from the job market, for example. Someone who fell prey to drugs but then conquered addiction, or who simply had a run of bad luck, found it all but impossible to get a foot back on the job ladder. People with other negatives—such as criminal records—had it even worse.