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The Unwanted Work Force

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 17, 2019 00:13

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The unemployment rate right now is the lowest it’s been in over 50 years. That’s pretty fantastic since it means that there are more jobs available than there are people to work them. But if you have a criminal record, the news isn’t so good.

Frankie Joauvel for Pixabay 

 

It is well established that the best way to reduce recidivism is through jobs. When an inmate leaves prison, he becomes an ex-felon, with the same needs as any other citizen. Foremost among those are housing, support from family and friends, and a job. He has to make a living just the same as every other adult in the free world.

Last year, the Prison Policy Initiative conducted the first ever comprehensive study of unemployment rates in the U.S. for ex-felons. What it found is a sad comment on our treatment of people who made a mistake and, for the most part, would like to put that mistake behind them and live a normal life. It is also an equivalent of NAMBY, Not In My Back Yard. Only in this circumstance, it would be Not In My Work Place.

With unemployment hanging in the neighborhood of five percent, separate out those with a criminal past, and the unemployment rate for that sector of the workforce jumps to over 27%. To put it in perspective, the unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 25%. It is over five times greater than today’s unemployment rate.

These are people that are willing to work, want to work, and are trying hard to find a job that will support themselves and their families.

Breaking down the numbers further, the rate is highest the first two years out of prison, sitting at 32.6%. The good news is that, the longer an ex-felon stays out of prison, the lower the unemployment rate drops. Of those out of prison four years, it stands at 13.6%

The rates by race and gender highlight the difficulties faced by ex-felons, especially women and people of color. The unemployment rate (at the time of the study) for white men in the general population was 4.3 %. White men with a criminal past saw that rate jump to 18.4%. For black men, that rate was 35.2% compared to 7.7% in the general population.

For women with a felony in their past, the numbers are much grimmer. White women had an unemployment rate of 23.2%, compared to a general population rate of 4.3%. Black women in the general population have an unemployment rate of 6.4%. Throw in a felony and that rate jumps to a staggering 43.6%. That’s right, almost half of black women with a felony cannot find a job after release from prison.

There are things that can be done to help lower these numbers, if people are only willing to do them. Coloradoans, for instance, in the last election, voted to ban the box, meaning employers can no longer ask if an applicant has a felony record. There is nothing preventing them from doing a background check and finding out, but without that box, ex-felons still stand a better chance of finding a job.

If we are serious about reducing recidivism, lowering ex-felon unemployment rates is a good place to start.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 17, 2019 00:13

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Source: The Root

Despite a last-ditch effort to overturn a recent bill restoring voting rights to ex-felons in Louisiana, legislators in the...

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