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Consequences of a Criminal Record for Employment Opportunity in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2002 (ICPSR 3599)

Principal Investigator(s): Pager, Devah, University of Wisconsin, Madison


This study examined employers' policies and practices for hiring entry-level workers in the Milwaukee metropolitan area. The study consisted of telephone interviews conducted in the spring of 2002 with 177 employers who had advertised entry-level openings in the prior six months. The survey included questions about the company, such as size, industry, employee turnover, and racial composition, questions about hiring procedures, questions about the last worker hired for a position not requiring a college degree, and questions about the employer's attitude toward various kinds of marginalized workers. An emphasis in the survey was placed on assessing employers' attitudes about and experience with applicants with criminal histories.

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Study Description


Pager, Devah. CONSEQUENCES OF A CRIMINAL RECORD FOR EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY IN MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, 2002. ICPSR version. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin [producer], 2002. Conducted by the Michigan State Survey Center. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2003.

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Export Citation:

  • RIS (generic format for RefWorks, EndNote, etc.)
  • EndNote XML (EndNote X4.0.1 or higher)


This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2002-IJ-CX-0002)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    African Americans, criminal histories, drug related crimes, employment discrimination, ex-offender employment, hiring practices, imprisonment, racial discrimination, White Americans

Geographic Coverage:    Milwaukee, United States, Wisconsin

Unit of Observation:    Individuals.

Universe:    Employers in the Milwaukee area who advertised for entry-level jobs between June and December 2001.

Data Type(s):    survey data

Data Collection Notes:

The user guide, codebook, and data collection instrument are provided by ICPSR as Portable Document Format (PDF) files. The PDF file format was developed by Adobe Systems, Incorporated and can be accessed using PDF reader software, such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Information on how to obtain a copy of the Acrobat Reader is provided on the ICPSR Web site.


Study Purpose:    This study investigated how and why employers make the hiring decisions they do. Questions asked included: (1) How do employers' reactions to applicants with criminal records compare to their reactions to other groups of marginalized workers? (2) How does the type of crime or the context of the sanction affect employers' evaluations of applicants with criminal records? (3) What kinds of formal screens do employers use to evaluate applicants for entry-level jobs? and (4) How do the characteristics of the job, the applicant pool, the customer base, and the company (location, size, industry, etc.) affect employers' willingness to consider applicants with criminal records?

Study Design:    Data consist of 177 completed telephone interviews with employers. The survey was administered by the Michigan State Survey Center. Calls were made to each establishment, asking to speak with the person in charge of hiring. The baseline survey instrument was developed by Harry Holzer et al. (1996, 2002). It includes questions about the company, such as size, industry, employee turnover, and racial composition, questions about hiring procedures, questions about the last worker hired for a position not requiring a college degree, and questions about the employer's attitude toward various kinds of marginalized workers. In addition, several vignette items were added to assess employers' reactions to applicants convicted of different types of crimes or who had received different types of sanctions. Roughly half of employers were read a vignette in which the subject was presented as White, with the other half receiving a vignette in which the subject was presented as Black.

Sample:    Job openings for entry-level positions (defined as job requiring no previous experience and no education past high school) were identified from the classified section of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL's Sunday edition between June and December 2001. During this same time period, a supplemental sample was drawn from JOBNET, a state-sponsored Web site for employment listings. All job openings within a 25-mile radius of downtown Milwaukee were included.

Data Source:

Data were obtained through telephone interviews.

Description of Variables:    Variables include the business's location, its main product, whether it was minority-owned, its distance from public transportation, how long it would take to get from the downtown business area to the business using public transportation, total employees, number of temporary employees, number of unskilled employees, number of positions that did not require a college degree, race of employees in non-college degree positions, percentage of employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, number of workers hired in past year, number of workers who left the business in the last year, and number of current job vacancies. Other variables focus on details of the application and hiring process for the last employee hired into a position that did not require a college degree, sex, age, race, and education of that employee, kinds of tasks regularly performed by that employee, kind of education and work experience needed for that position, the compensation for that position, number of hours per week usually worked in that position, whether health insurance was provided for that position, and possibility of promotion for someone in that position. Additional items include whether the business would hire an applicant on welfare, an applicant with a GED, an applicant with a criminal record, an applicant with only part-time work experience, or an applicant who had been unemployed for over a year, whether the company required applicants to take a drug test, what percentage of drug tests had been positive in the last year, whether the company asked applicants about their criminal background, percentage of applicants that reported a prior conviction in the last year, whether the company performed background checks, percentage of background checks in the last year that found a criminal record, how background checks were performed, number of employees company hired with a criminal record in the last year, number of those still employed, how positive the company's experience with those employees was, the percentage of applicants who were Black, White, and Hispanic, the percentage of customers who were Black, White, and Hispanic, and the respondent's title, race, age, education, and gender. Also included are answers to questions that described hypothetical applicants.

Response Rates:    The final survey sample of 177 respondents represented a 51-percent response rate. Four firms were dropped from the survey sample and were excluded from the denominator for the calculation of the response rate.

Presence of Common Scales:    Several Likert-type scales were used.

Extent of Processing:   ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Standardized missing values.


Original ICPSR Release:   2003-06-19

Version History:

  • 2005-11-04 On 2005-03-14 new files were added to one or more datasets. These files included additional setup files as well as one or more of the following: SAS program, SAS transport, SPSS portable, and Stata system files. The metadata record was revised 2005-11-04 to reflect these additions.

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