Private and public employers are no longer able to ask about an applicant's criminal history on job applications. They can inquire during the interview process. [Shutterstock/Turhan]

People who have criminal records now have a better chance of getting a job thanks to the “Ban the Box” legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday.

The legislation requires both public and private employers to remove questions about applicants’ criminal records from job applications. The questions may be asked later in the hiring process, once applicants have been given a chance to be considered on their qualifications. The law does not apply to jobs where employers must exclude applicants with criminal histories.

The City of Chicago joined the “Ban the Box” movement in 2006 and Quinn enacted the policy for state government jobs last year.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that 70 million adults in the US have a criminal record, many in low-income communities. Prior to the legislation, former prisoners would rarely – if ever – get past the application process, denying them a chance to be productive citizens after their release.

According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, there were 12 million to 14 million ex-offenders of working age in the US in 2008. Due to their lower employment prospects, it was estimated the group lowered the total male employment rate by 1.5 to 1.7 percent, costing the economy $57 billion to $65 billion in lost output.

Some business owners have opposed eliminating the criminal-history question from applications, saying it adds unnecessary time, expense and liability to the hiring process.

Illinois is the fifth state to extend “Ban the Box” to include private employers, joining Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

is an intern at The Chicago Reporter.