ban the box

Ban the Box - photo credit PBS

Death by HR – Ban the Box, Credit Scores, Current Salaries: The Road to Hiring Blind

So corporate hiring today is a mess, and about to get worse as progressives try to force companies to give up some of the few tools they have to disqualify criminal or unreliable applicants—with the usual noble motivations, of course. We’ll go over these efforts, then look at a new Seattle ordinance designed to limit discrimination in apartment rentals by forcing landlords to accept the first applicant who “qualifies,” which will evolve (if not pushed back) to limit allowed requirements until landlords essentially will be forced to take almost anyone. This idea of forcing acceptance of applicants will most likely soon be applied to hiring, as the social engineers gradually reduce any freedoms a business manager might have so that their client population can enjoy the benefits of being hardworking, reliable, self-controlled citizens without actually demonstrating any of those qualities. If US labor law ever reaches that late stage equality-of-outcome decadence, productivity will crumble, much as it did in the old USSR where jobs were similarly guaranteed and handed out based on pull. This kind of micromanagement of free-market employment practices is typical of progressives—to achieve the worthy goal (in this case, limiting invidious discrimination), they try to limit the use of management discretion in operating a business by passing unenforceable laws that tend to do more harm than good.

Progressives are working hard to outlaw use of credit scores or criminal records to screen job candidates. This is, of course, because bad records on either tend to identify less trustworthy, less reliable people that employers quite reasonably want to avoid hiring. The campaign to outlaw application questions about criminal records is called “Ban the Box,” and this catchy name means applications that include a box to be checked if the applicant has a criminal record are to be banned by law. Most such laws passed at state and local levels only ban the question on applications for government jobs or government contractors, since the legality of going further at the local level is questionable. But moves are afoot to make it part of Federal equal employment regulations.

It’s true that not every candidate who fails such screening would be a bad employee. Both ex-prisoners and bad credit risks might well have reformed, with the black marks on their record not indicating their current state of trustworthiness—and a wise employer might consider them by looking deeper into their background and directly questioning them on how they may have learned from their experiences. But employers who are going to rely on the keeping of promises to show up on time, work hard, and not steal from their employer are not wrong to think these are factors to consider.

Further, studies of “Ban the Box” laws show that they can actually harm the minorities they are intended to help. An employer who loses the ability to check for a criminal record may be more likely to act on prejudice—after all, prejudice and adverse stereotyping are strongest where information is limited. Being able to pass a criminal record check enhances a minority candidate’s chance of being viewed as a good risk for the employer. The most recent study demonstrated this effect:

“Ban-the-Box” (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among black men, who disproportionately have criminal records. However, withholding information about criminal records could risk encouraging statistical discrimination: employers may make assumptions about criminality based on the applicant’s race. To investigate this possibility as well as the effects of race and criminal records on employer callback rates, we sent approximately 15,000 fictitious online job applications to employers in New Jersey and New York City, in waves before and after each jurisdiction’s adoption of BTB policies. Our causal effect estimates are based on a triple-differences design, which exploits the fact that many businesses’ applications did not ask about records even before BTB and were thus unaffected by the law.

Our results confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but they also support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race. Overall, white applicants received 23% more callbacks than similar black applicants (38% more in New Jersey; 6% more in New York City; we also find that the white advantage is much larger in whiter neighborhoods). Employers that ask about criminal records are 62% more likely to call back an applicant if he has no record (45% in New Jersey; 78% in New York City)—an effect that BTB compliance necessarily eliminates. However, we find that the race gap in callbacks grows dramatically at the BTB-affected companies after the policy goes into effect. Before BTB, white applicants to BTB-affected employers received about 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants, but BTB increases this gap to 45%.[1]

Most of these laws are presented as preventing pre-screening; the employer may still look into criminal records after deciding to offer the candidate a job. But the clear trend is to make ex-criminal status a protected class and outlaw discrimination on that basis. Another paper suggests employers are more likely to avoid even taking applications from minority candidates if these laws are in place, exercising a form of passive resistance that is hard to prevent:

Removing information about job applicants’ criminal histories [through Ban The Box (BTB) laws) could lead employers who don’t want to hire ex-offenders to try to guess who the ex-offenders are, and avoid interviewing them. In particular, employers might avoid interviewing young, low-skilled, black and Hispanic men when criminal records are not observable. This would worsen employment outcomes for these already-disadvantaged groups. In this paper, we use variation in the details and timing of state and local BTB policies to test BTB’s effects on employment for various demographic groups. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of being employed by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men, and by 2.3 percentage points (2.9%) for young, low-skilled Hispanic men. These findings support the hypothesis that when an applicant’s criminal history is unavailable, employers statistically discriminate against demographic groups that are likely to have a criminal record.[2]

Not screening hires for criminal records also subjects employers to big negligence awards when consumers are victimized by unscreened employees:

“Consider these allegations from a 2012 Virginia case,” Leeson said. “The employer hired a person to work in a hotel, and allegedly did not perform a background check or ask about the person’s criminal history. The person had previously been convicted of a felony sex crime. The person thereafter raped an 18-year-old hotel maid on her third day on the job. The maid sued the hotel for negligent hire. The case settled with the hotel agreeing to pay $675,000 to the former maid.” Ultimately, Leeson said, “I believe it is reasonable and prudent for employers to ask about prior convictions as one factor in the overall evaluation of the applicant.”[3]

But the laws are spreading rapidly and being applied to private employers as well:

Nine states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have removed the conviction history question on job applications for private employers, which advocates embrace as the next step in the evolution of these policies.

The majority of ban-the-box laws apply only to public employers, but blanket ban-the-box laws impacting all sectors are on the rise. Many advocates embrace private-sector ban-the-box laws as the “next step in the evolution of these policies,” according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a worker advocacy organization….

There are also various city and county ban-the-box laws around the country that apply to private employers…

Many ban-the-box policies exempt employers that have 10 employees or less, but some, such as Minnesota’s, do not. And while many private employers have balked at ban-the-box policies, at least two large retailers have jumped on board. National retailers Target and Wal-Mart no longer ask about an applicant’s conviction record during the initial phase of the hiring process, according to NELP. In order to comply with the 2013 Minnesota law, Minneapolis-based Target announced it was eliminating the box on its applications. Wal-Mart took that action in 2010.[4]

So if your area doesn’t already have a BTB law, it soon will.

Now to move on to the use of credit reports to screen candidates: credit reports are already regulated by Federal law, and since they aren’t cheap, companies rarely use them to pre-screen candidates. But they are widely used in the final stages of hiring decisions:

Employers get a shortened version of your credit report that excludes any information that would violate equal employment opportunity laws, explains Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit bureau Experian. An employer report also does not list “soft” inquiries, which do show up on the report an individual receives….

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 47% of employers check potential employees’ credit reports as part of the hiring process. The same study found that the two most common reasons for reviewing job candidates’ credit reports are to decrease the likelihood of theft and embezzlement and reduce legal liability for negligent hiring. According to an article in The New York Times, which cited the same survey:

“Most businesses use credit checks only to screen for certain positions, but one in eight, the survey found, does a credit check before every hire.”

But it’s important to remember that your employer can’t check your credit report without your consent; you must give written permission. Also, an employer won’t be seeing personal information, like your account numbers, when he or she reviews your report. The modified version that’s provided takes steps to protect your privacy.

Also, 11 states have laws prohibiting employer credit checks and/or restricting how this information can be used in the hiring process. If you live in one of these states, an employer credit check may not be something you need to worry about.[5]

Many employers are failing to follow the existing laws on use of credit reports, and as a result are getting hit with multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits:

Last year saw an increasing number of FCRA class-action lawsuits filed and settled for millions of dollars. FCRA violations can range from not making legally required disclosures to not following proper adverse action procedures.

“Not a month has gone by in over a year when there hasn’t been a major FCRA class action on background checks, and that trend has already continued into January,” said Nick Fishman, executive vice president at EmployeeScreenIQ.

We may see an “explosion” of FCRA class-action suits against employers and background screening firms as plaintiffs’ attorneys become more familiar with the law and the whole area of background checks, said Rosen. The financial recovery can be enormous—up to $1,000 per person in damages.

“Given the large statutory damages at issue, the promise of attorneys’ fees and punitive damages, along with the fact that there is an open question as to whether an individual need be actually harmed to bring an action, these claims will undoubtedly continue,” Devata agreed. Many FCRA claims have nothing to do with a person being harmed, but instead are the result of a mere technicality in the law, she added. …Employers should be aware that taking an adverse action—terminating an existing employee, rescinding a job offer to an applicant, denying a promotion—based on a consumer report “requires them to engage in a multistep process and requires close consideration of timed requirements,” said Do. “Bottom line, if negative information comes back on a background check, an employer simply can’t just pick up the phone and say ‘You’re not getting the job.’ ” Failing to provide a copy of the consumer report, failing to furnish a copy of the FCRA summary of rights document, and failing to provide the opportunity to dispute a report’s inaccuracies or errors, are common allegations, said Do.

These suits are the most troubling because they are the most avoidable, said Fishman. “These laws aren’t that hard to follow. Employers need to continually audit their processes and make sure that they comply with the law.”

It’s important to train incoming HR staff on the FCRA. “In many cases, with high turnover in HR departments, the sufficient training that was provided when an employer first signs on with a screening firm may not be adequately conveyed to new members. The likelihood that an oversight may result when an undertrained staff member fails to follow protocol then increases,” said Do.[7]

Notice how a seemingly well-motivated law not only removes hiring discretion, but with the help in this case of class action lawyers (who are part of the political class feeding off private industry with the help of the pols who write the laws), requires hiring more and more HR staff and consultants to administer and train for it. Every regulation imposed on employers increases non-productive staff and budget, and decreases the freedom to seek out the best employees without fear of government punishment. Every gain in “fairness” imposed by law costs everyone twice as much in lost growth and opportunity.

And banning use of credit checks in hiring has the same perverse effect as “Ban The Box” — it hurts minorities:

One of the hottest ideas among lawmakers right now is to ban employers from running credit checks on job applicants. Since 2007, eleven states, as well as Chicago and New York City, have passed such laws. Supporters of these restrictions often frame the issue as a civil rights problem. In particular, they say, credit checks impede employment among minorities, who disproportionately have low credit scores.

…But a new study from Robert Clifford, an economist at the Boston Fed, and Daniel Shoag, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, finds that when employers are prohibited from looking into people’s financial history, something perverse happens: African-Americans become more likely to be unemployed relative to others….

Why did black unemployment go up?

To understand how banning credit checks can lead to unforeseen repercussions, consider the problem from the employer’s perspective. A single job opening these days can get hundreds of applications. Since hiring managers can’t interview every candidate, they need some way to narrow the field. Filtering out people with bad credit helps them bring the number of applicants down to a manageable size. But if employers can’t look into a job-seeker’s financial history, they try something else.

“Employers have many screening measures to narrow down who they want to hire,” Shoag says. “If you take one away, they’ll put more weight on the others.”

That’s exactly what seemed to happen in places that outlawed employer credit checks. Looking at 74 million job listings between 2007 and 2013, Clifford and Shoag found that employers started to become pickier, especially in cities where there were a lot of workers with low credit scores. If a credit-check ban went into effect, job postings were more likely to ask for a bachelor’s degree, and to require additional years of experience.

There are other ways that employers could have also become more discerning, Shoag says. They might have started to rely on referrals or recommendations to make sure that applicants were high-quality. In the absence of credit information to establish trustworthiness, they may even have fallen back on racial stereotypes to screen candidates. The researchers couldn’t measure these tactics, but they’re possibilities.

Any of these reasons might explain one of the study’s strangest findings. In states that passed a credit-check ban, unemployment for African-Americans rose by about one percent compared to unemployment in other states and among other demographic groups. This remained true after controlling for factors like education, age, and gender.

… In the absence of that information, employers had to rely more on other clues about the quality of applicants, including their education and experience levels, but also, perhaps, their interview skills or their recommendations. Whatever the new criteria were, they seem to have put black applicants at a disadvantage.

“This reflects a general movement of legislators monkeying around with the hiring process without thinking about the consequences,” Shoag says.[8]

The latest in efforts to restrict information available to hiring companies is the so-far-not-cleverly-named movement to ban asking any questions about salary history. The theory here is that current and past salary history can be used to hold back women, since a new employer may well offer an increase based on the supposedly lower salaries women make under the yoke of discrimination. The practical need for both applicant and employer to discover whether they are even close to a negotiating range is, of course, not considered, because the appearance of helping women make better salaries is all that counts. Now employers may spend considerable effort to decide on a candidate only to discover the salary they were prepared to offer is far too low to interest the candidate.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass such a law.[9] But theirs goes further, attempting to enshrine the concept of comparable worth—even different jobs with similar labor and standards are supposed to pay the same. This was in response to a suit from largely female cafeteria workers paid just over half of what janitors in the same school system made; the obvious difference in working conditions (social and clean vs. nonsocial and dirty) which explain the relative attractiveness of the positions, and thus the pay differential, seem to be beyond the politicians. This subjective standard will occupy court time and allow more lawyers to extract profitable settlements for themselves.
Meanwhile, attempts to outlaw salary questions at the Federal level are ongoing:

Under the Pay Equity for All Act of 2016 (H.R. 6030), the U.S. Department of Labor would be able to assess fines up to $10,000 against employers who violate the law by asking questions about an applicant’s salary history. Additionally, prospective or current employees would be able to bring a private lawsuit against an employer who violated the law and could receive up to $10,000 in damages plus attorney fees….

Although many employers may not intend to discriminate on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity, asking for prior salary information before offering an applicant a job can have a discriminatory effect in the workplace that begins or reinforces the wage gap, according to a news release announcing the bill.[10]

Women need a Big Brother on their side to have a chance at negotiating a fair salary for themselves, and the Party of Government is happy to provide one. Or at least pretend to.

[1] “Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Statistical Discrimination: A Field Experiment,” by Amanda Y. Agan (Princeton University – Department of Economics) and Sonja B. Starr (University of Michigan Law School), U of Michigan Law & Econ Research Paper No. 16-012, June 14, 2016.
[2] “Does ‘Ban the Box’ Help or Hurt Low-Skilled Workers? Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories are Hidden,” by Jennifer L. Doleac and Benjamin Hansen, NBER Working Paper No. 22469, July 2016.
[3] “Ban-the-Box Movement Goes Viral,” by Roy Maurer, SHRM, 2016.
[4] Maurer
[5] “Your Employer Won’t Be Looking at Your Credit Score—Here’s Why,” by Lindsay Konsko, Nerdwallet, August 1, 2016. Starts by saying employers don’t look at credit scores, then segues to how they actually look at credit reports.
[6] “The Use of Credit Reports in Employment Background Screening,” by Lester Rosen, CEO, Employment Screening Resources, and Kerstin Bagus, Director Global Compliance, LexisNexis Screening Solutions Inc., 2010.
[7] “Know Before You Hire: 2015 Employment Screening Trends,” by Roy Maurer, SHRM, January 27, 2015.
[8] “The law was supposed to reduce discrimination. But it made hiring more racially biased,” by Jeff Guo, Washington Post, March 23, 2016.
[9] “Does new law mean real pay equity for women? Not quite,” by Shirley Leung, Boston Globe, August 4, 2016.
[10] “Bill Banning Salary History Questions Goes Before House.” by Kathy Gurchiek, SHRM HR Today, Sep 16, 2016.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits… HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

More reading on other topics:

More Reading:

Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming Idiocracy
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Stable is Boring? “Psychology Today” Article on Bad Boyfriends

Your Betters Decide For You: (Not) Choosing a Tenant in Seattle

The Socialist Alternative for Seattle

The Socialist Alternative Party for Seattle

The Party of Government knows better than owners and managers how to run a business properly — look what they did for Detroit and Flint! We’ll talk about the $15 minimum wage (really outlawing jobs worth less than that) and the movement to prohibit prospective employers from asking about criminal records or checking credit ratings, but the latest brilliant idea from the socialist progressives (including the new Socialist councilwoman) in Seattle wins the prize for harmful intrusion pretending to do good: landlords must take the first tenant candidate who meets their qualifications, which must be set forth in advance. This is of course intended to prevent invidious housing discrimination in a city with a shortage of rentals and rapidly-increasing prices as Seattle goes the way of California, inhibiting new housing construction (because that only benefits greedy developers) and then blaming the business of providing housing for the shortage and high prices of same.

From the article “A primer on Seattle’s new first-come, first-served renters law,” by Daniel Beekman in the Seattle Times of August 10, 2106:

Seattle is apparently breaking new ground by requiring landlords in the city to rent their housing units to qualified applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. Officials say they’re unaware of any other U.S. city with a policy like the one the Seattle City Council approved Monday, along with other rental-housing changes.

This might be a clue that your new law might be a bad idea. Good luck with those lawsuits!

The goal is to ensure prospective renters are treated equally, according to Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who championed the policy. When landlords pick one renter among multiple qualified applicants, their own biases — conscious or unconscious — may come into play, she says.

May come into play! To prevent thoughtcrime, one must banish discretion. A similar law in employment will help even more, when jobs aren’t handed out on the whim of those who are responsible for production. Every applicant will have a place in tractor factory! The city will tackle discrimination in mating and friendship next.

Some landlords don’t mind the policy, saying they already operate on a first-come, first-served basis. But others are upset, saying they should be able to use their own judgment to choose the renters they believe will be most reliable.

The landlords who say they don’t mind may be running shithole low-end buildings with low maintenance and high turnover. And lying, since they’ve been trained to discriminate covertly by previous regimes. One of the casualties of socialist systems is truth — everyone pretends and works the system. Underground economies spring up — the best apartments go to the connected who can trade favors or outright bribes to get in, as in San Francisco’s rent-controlled units.

Even proponents of the policy acknowledge it could have unintended consequences, and some details still need to be worked out before it takes effect Jan. 1.

“There seems to be a strong common-sense argument for this,” said Leland Jones, regional spokesman for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But we’ll have to wait and see.”

Like common-sense gun regulations, progressives label whatever micromanaging policy they want that week obvious and sensible. Those who point out the unintended consequences are just standing in the way of progress and fairness for all. Unicorns and rainbows happen when we cut up that pie our way! After all, housing is a human right. Those who own it have to give it to those who need it.

Before accepting a prospective renter’s application materials, a landlord will need to provide the renter with information on the landlord’s minimum screening criteria, Kranzler said. When the landlord receives a completed application — in person, electronically or through the mail — the landlord will be required to make note of the date and time. The landlord will be required to screen multiple applications in the order in which they were received and make offers to qualified renters in that order. A prospective renter won’t necessarily know her position in line, but she can ask SOCR [Seattle Office of Civil Rights] to investigate by checking the landlord’s records. Prospective renters will also have the option to sue a landlord when they think they’ve been skipped — an aspect of the policy that bothers landlord groups.

To aid enforcement, the next update to the law may require all landlords to maintain an open Internet connection which transmits all changes to their records directly to the SOCR.

Ann LoGerfo, a directing attorney with Columbia Legal Services who pushed for the policy, offered an example: A landlord with two qualified applicants picks a name he associates with his own ethnicity, rather than a name that sounds foreign to him. Under Seattle’s new policy, if the latter completes her application first and meets the landlord’s criteria, the landlord will be required to offer her the unit.

One Seattle landlord who likes the idea is Jason Truesdell, who rents out a duplex in Madison Valley. Truesdell says he practices first-come, first-served now. “Because my goal is to get a unit occupied as quickly as possible by someone reliable,” he said.

While that sounds quite reasonable, Jason, your ability to set those criteria for reliability is being taken away. You won’t be allowed to use credit scores, criminal histories, or reports from previous landlords to refuse a new tenant — the next generation of this ordinance will set qualifications that your political masters decide. Your pain and suffering in dealing with bad tenants and the apartments they trash and the good tenants they run off matters not at all; giving protected classes do-overs to cover up their irresponsibilities of the past is more important. Because literally nothing in their lives was ever their fault. The Man has kept them down, and you’re The Man now, Jason — we’re taking control of your property for reparations.

And Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said the policy means Seattle is taking a leadership role. “We’ve been asking people to address this issue for years,” but landlords always push back, said Smith. “We know landlords skip people all the time, and often the people they skip are people of color, people with vouchers and families with children.”

Stupid landlords. What do they know? Shanna knows better. Section 8 people are the salt of the earth and belong in quiet buildings. They can be key in the neighborhood Party Committee that will dole out scarce food and housing to those who support the goals of the Council.

Not everyone is happy about the policy, however. Don Taylor, who rents out a small building off Aurora Avenue North, said he doesn’t need policing. “How do I do it? Part of it is just feel,” Taylor said, recalling an instance in which he chose one qualified applicant over another because her salary was lower and he guessed she’d be less likely to buy a home and move out. “The longer you can keep a tenant, the better off you are,” the landlord said. “I don’t care whether you’re black, white or purple.”

I was a landlord in an area where good apartments were in great demand, and this is exactly how a smart landlord thinks. There’s little or no racism or improper discrimination involved — I chose black men and lesbians quite cheerfully when they were the most likely to pay the rent, be good neighbors to others, and take good care of the apartment. Taking away all the subtle discretionary factors that go into making these decisions amounts to harming small landlords who are doing it right.

Sean Martin, spokesman for the Rental Housing Association of Washington, says the group already advises landlords to operate on a first-come, first-served basis — to avoid discrimination claims. But he’s worried about unintended consequences. He wonders whether the race-to-apply policy will give an advantage to people with cars, smartphones and free time over people who ride the bus and work three jobs….

Then there’s the question of enforcement. Taylor says he’ll keep going with his gut. “I plan to find a way to work around the law,” he said.

False times and dates. Different screening criteria. Pre-application interviews. Those are all possibilities, said [Jason] Truesdell, who plans to adhere to the policy. “I can easily imagine how this could be gamed,” he said.

That’s why… the national expert says Seattle will need to ramp up its sting operations. According to SOCR, it will need to add two staffers to handle work related to the first-come, first-served policy — to the tune of more than $200,000 next year.

Your tax dollars at work, making housing more expensive and harder to find by discouraging new rental housing construction. Seattle is on the road to San Francisco’s impossibly expensive, two-class housing market, where only the very wealthy or connected can find comfortable and affordable apartments.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


Death by HR: Good-Enough Cogs vs Best Employees

College Costs Up, Salaries Flat

College Costs Up, Salaries Flat

Remember the bucket brigade model of teamwork? It demonstrated that giving a manager the freedom to pick and choose who would be on a team and what they would be paid allowed even those weak in some areas to be employed to complement the strengths of other team members. Taking away that freedom to choose — by imposing minimum wages or labor regulations — resulted in some people being unemployed who might otherwise have done well and gained skills over time.

The cog model of labor, as employed by unionists and government labor laws, sees jobs as slots to be filled by anyone who is “good enough” — who can function at some standardized level in the position. No worker is supposed to do much more than the standard amount of work, and hours are to be regulated by law to prevent abuse of workers by rapacious business owners. Much of the discussion of affirmative action (AA) and diversity assumes this — when there are many candidates to choose from, one can simply declare a minimum competence requirement, then choose the candidates that further diversity goals from among that pool. This will typically not be the best candidates for the particular position and team environment, but team managers are not given a choice.

Signifiers of “good enough” that are seen as objective — like high school and college degrees, grades, and test scores — are often used to screen out many applicants for entry-level jobs before any consideration of their complete records. But all of these quality signifiers tend to screen out more minority applicants, and so are inevitably attacked as having disparate impacts. The EEOC, for example, recently issued a letter stating that requiring a high-school diploma for a position might be inherently discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act.[1] Standardized tests have been legally attacked and removed as requirements as well. The “Ban the Box” campaign[2] is an effort to prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal histories, since some minorities are much more likely to have been convicted of a crime. The reductio ad absurdum where people convicted of sex crimes against children cannot be disqualified from jobs in child care is not far away; the unionist / government answer is that such people must be hired, paid, and promoted, but can be told to report to a room to serve their work days, since as with the bad teachers paid to sit in NYC’s Rubber Room,[3] it’s not that important that they actually be useful as long as equality is preserved — the task is not to produce, but to harvest the proceeds of political influence for clients of the political machine.

There is an argument for prohibiting employers from asking about college degrees for many positions — since minority applicants from failed urban schools fail to graduate, or if they do tend to drop out of higher education before they obtain a degree, using a college degree as a general requirement for jobs where the extra education is not required to do the job is discriminatory. The requirement certifies mostly that the applicant can deal with arbitrary reward systems and complicated schedules of attendance with only long-term rewards, which bars most raised with the underclass cultures who have had little opportunity to learn self-discipline or other bourgeois values. Standards of learning for obtaining a soft-studies degree like psychology or political science from a low-end college are not much more rigorous than for high school, with many graduates not much more literate and knowledgeable after four years of “education.” Anyone who can navigate the bureaucracy and attend class is likely to be awarded a degree.

Scott Alexander in his Slate Star Codex piece “Against Tulip Subsidies”[4] wrote about a kingdom where marriage proposals customarily required a tulip, and what happened when tulips became expensive in a speculative market bubble (as they actually did in Holland around 1637)[5] :

Suitors wishing to give a token of their love find themselves having to invest their entire life savings – with no guarantee that the woman will even say yes! Soon, some of the poorest people are locked out of marriage and family-raising entirely.

Some of the members of Parliament are outraged. Marriage is, they say, a human right, and to see it forcibly denied the poor by foreign speculators is nothing less than an abomination. They demand that the King provide every man enough money to guarantee he can buy a tulip. Some objections are raised: won’t it deplete the Treasury? Are we obligated to buy everyone a beautiful flawless bulb, or just the sickliest, grungiest plant that will technically satisfy the requirements of the ritual? If some man continuously proposes to women who reject him, are we obligated to pay for a new bulb each time, thus subsidizing his stupidity?

The pro-subsidy faction declares that the people asking these question are well-off, and can probably afford tulips of their own, and so from their place of privilege they are trying to raise pointless objections to other people being able to obtain the connubial happiness they themselves enjoy. After the doubters are tarred and feathered and thrown in the river, Parliament votes that the public purse pay for as many tulips as the poor need, whatever the price.

He makes the analogy to the Progressive movement for “free college,” where everyone is viewed as entitled to a four-year degree at public expense, without much consideration of the cost or value of such degrees. Then he points out his own profession, medicine, as an example where arbitrarily costly educational requirements may have little benefit and high costs:

In America, aspiring doctors do four years of undergrad in whatever area they want (I did Philosophy), then four more years of medical school, for a total of eight years post-high school education. In Ireland, aspiring doctors go straight from high school to medical school and finish after five years.

I’ve done medicine in both America and Ireland. The doctors in both countries are about equally good. When Irish doctors take the American standardized tests, they usually do pretty well. Ireland is one of the approximately 100% of First World countries that gets better health outcomes than the United States. There’s no evidence whatsoever that American doctors gain anything from those three extra years of undergrad. And why would they? Why is having a philosophy degree under my belt supposed to make me any better at medicine?

(I guess I might have acquired a talent for colorectal surgery through long practice pulling things out of my ass, but it hardly seems worth it.)

I’ll make another confession. Ireland’s medical school is five years as opposed to America’s four because the Irish spend their first year teaching the basic sciences – biology, organic chemistry, physics, calculus. When I applied to medical school in Ireland, they offered me an accelerated four year program on the grounds that I had surely gotten all of those in my American undergraduate work. I hadn’t. I read some books about them over the summer and did just fine.

Americans take eight years to become doctors. Irishmen can do it in four, and achieve the same result. Each year of higher education at a good school – let’s say an Ivy, doctors don’t study at Podunk Community College – costs about $50,000. So American medical students are paying an extra $200,000 for…what?

Remember, a modest amount of the current health care crisis is caused by doctors’ crippling level of debt. Socially responsible doctors often consider less lucrative careers helping the needy, right up until the bill comes due from their education and they realize they have to make a lot of money right now. We took one look at that problem and said “You know, let’s make doctors pay an extra $200,000 for no reason.”

And to paraphrase Dirkson, $200,000 here, $200,000 there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money. 20,000 doctors graduate in the United States each year; that means the total yearly cost of requiring doctors to have undergraduate degrees is $4 billion. That’s most of the amount of money you’d need to house every homeless person in the country ($10,000 to house one homeless x 600,000 homeless).

Alexander cites more examples from his immediate family and friends of the use of degree and certification requirements to keep talented, motivated people out of professions and jobs:

But it’s not just medicine. Let me tell you about my family.

There’s my cousin. He wants to be a firefighter. He’s wanted to be a firefighter ever since he was young, and he’s done volunteer work for his local fire department, who have promised him a job. But in order to get it, he has to go do four years of college. You can’t be a firefighter without a college degree. That would be ridiculous. Back in the old days, when people were allowed to become firefighters after getting only thirteen measly years of book learning, I have it on good authority that several major states burnt to the ground.

My mother is a Spanish teacher. After twenty years teaching, with excellent reviews by her students, she pursued a Masters’ in Education because her school was going to pay her more money if she had it. She told me that her professors were incompetent, had never actually taught real students, and spent the entire course pushing whatever was the latest educational fad; however, after paying them thousands of dollars, she got the degree and her school dutifully increased her salary. She is lucky. In several states, teachers are required by law to pursue a Masters’ degree to be allowed to continue teaching. Oddly enough, these states have no better student outcomes than states without this requirement, but this does not seem to affect their zeal for this requirement. Even though many rigorous well-controlled studies have found that presence of absence of a Masters’ degree explains approximately zero percent of variance in teacher quality, many states continue to require it if you want to keep your license, and almost every state will pay you more for having it.

Before taking my current job, I taught English in Japan. I had no Japanese language experience and no teaching experience, but the company I interviewed with asked if I had an undergraduate degree in some subject or other, and that was good enough for them. Meanwhile, I knew people who were fluent in Japanese and who had high-level TOEFL certification. They did not have a college degree so they were not considered.

My ex-girlfriend majored in Gender Studies, but it turned out all of the high-paying gender factories had relocated to China. They solved this problem by going to App Academy, a three month long, $15,000 course that taught programming. App Academy graduates compete for the same jobs as people who have taken computer science in college, a four-year-long, $200,000 undertaking.

I see no reason to think my family and friends are unique. The overall picture seems to be one of people paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a degree in Art History to pursue a job in Sales, or a degree in Spanish Literature to get a job as a middle manager. Or not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, if they happen to be poor, and so being permanently locked out of jobs as a firefighter or salesman.

This is a picture of a society where distant authorities control employment qualifications for political and bureaucratic reasons and thereby prevent many people who would be very good at a job from having any chance of getting it. The “free college” movement is just more of the same central-planning-style thinking: removing all obstacles so that everyone — no matter how poorly-motivated, ill-prepared, or congenitally stupid — goes to a college, no matter how dumbed-down. Which by magic will allow all of them to be placed in good professional jobs with high salaries and secure futures. Because college is good, everyone should go! And heaven help us when barely-competent professionals are running important institutions because they have been passed along through an education system where no one fails.

This faith in college education for all is a secular version of believing prayer in schools will somehow uplift the morality of children forced to pray. It is promoted not only by the “Baptists” who believe, but by the self-interested bootleggers who benefit from force-feeding students and tax dollars to academic bureaucracies that employ mostly Democrat-aligned voters, which is why more funding for college is always on that party’s agenda.

This tax-supported credentialism has begun to erode standards in higher education, to the point where half or more of students with A and B averages in high school still need remedial coursework[6] before even starting a college-level program. As the corrupting effect of government student loan financing took hold in colleges and universities, standards fell, and resources go to expensive facilities and administrators while teaching is often assigned to low-paid, abused gypsy adjunct instructors. The result is a pervasive decline in the quality of college graduates at all but the highest-level institutions and a heavy burden of debt on students who discover too late that a college degree is no guarantee of a job paying enough to pay for it.

Credentialism is lazy, and part of the no-competence, no-consequences culture brought to us by government. The party of government works very hard to feed their voters a steady diet of stories deflecting blame for institutional failure toward for-profit colleges, prisons, and medical facilities while exempting the nonprofit, government-employee-staffed equivalents from any scrutiny, when they are often just as corrupt. Requiring 4-year degrees for most jobs ratifies the dumbing-down of the high school degree, which used to certify a broad education in the basics sufficient for middle-class skilled employment.


[1] EEOC letter dated June 11, 2012. “ADA & Title VII: High School Diploma Requirement and Disparate Impact.”
[2] “Ban the Box: US Cities, Counties, and States Adopt Fair Hiring Policies,” by Michelle Natividad Rodriguez and Beth Avery, National Employment Law Project.
[3] “The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City’s worst teachers,” by Steven Brill. The New Yorker, August 31, 2009.
[6] “Trapped in the Community College Remedial Maze,” by Mikhail Zinshteyn, Atlantic, February 26, 2016.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading on other topics:

Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming IdiocracyRegulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy