Written By: Carissa Gurgul

In a time of record low unemployment, there have been shortages in the workforce, where employers often struggle finding applicants for open job positions.  Dropping from 6.6 to 1.3 from 2009 to 2016, the ratio of unemployed persons per job opening has been steadily dropping over time.  Another issue presented in the workforce is with people who have come out of prison, roughly 600,000 per year, who often have a hard time finding work after being released.  In fact, within the first few years after their release, nearly half of these individuals report no earnings, while those who do find work tend to make very little, averaging $11,000 per year.  According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the unemployment rate for ex-offenders reached a higher rate (27%) in 2008 than the 25% during the Great Depression.  Many think it would be a good thing for ex-prisoners to hold steady jobs, as it would distract them and give them responsibility.  A study of Connecticut ex-prisoners shows that joblessness is the main factor leading them to commit more crimes, subsequently landing them back in jail – without a job, people are more likely to commit crimes in order to meet financial needs of survival.

Additionally, many ex-prisoners have spent their time in jail reflecting on their actions and are truly ready to change their lives for the better.  However, society often labels this collective group of people a certain way, positioning them as dangerous, lazy, aggressive, unwilling to cooperate, etc., which makes it difficult for them to find these beneficial jobs.  Bruce Western, sociologist at Princeton University, says that “Having a felony on your record is like having the mark of Cain on your forehead.”  Most ex-convicts are not even granted interview opportunities because employers have placed a negative stigma on them and does not want to risk anything happening if they were to hire them.  A 2007 study showed that the call back rate for African Americans with a criminal record is three times lower than the rate of those without a criminal record, and for white ex-offenders, the rate is half that of white people with no criminal record (shown below).  Furthermore, with a black mark against them because of common stereotypes placed onto ex-prisoners, when they do find work, they are typically expected to go above and beyond their assigned tasks, working harder than other employees who are not in this same situation, in order to prove themselves.

According to a USA Today reporter, the United States is losing approximately $87 billion in gross domestic product per year by neglecting to consider ex-criminals for many job positions.  With the US having an extremely high incarceration rate, nearly a third of the population’s country has some sort of criminal record, in turn, preventing them from finding stellar work opportunities.  Economically, ex-inmates returning to crime after their release due to lack of job opportunities does not only cost more for taxpayers to sustain them in such facilities, but also causes the prices of goods to oftentimes rise as a way to makeup for the loss of products to theft.

Oftentimes, employers are willing to work with ex-criminals, but laws prohibit them from doing so.  However, Pennsylvania recently passed the Clean Slate Act, which allows ex-prisoners’ records to be wiped clean after abstaining from criminal activity for a set period of time, exemplifying their efforts to turning their lives around to the right track.  Oftentimes, employers are willing to work with ex-criminals, but laws prohibit them from doing so.  Similarly, some parts of Western Pennsylvania are now beginning to implement four-state pilot programs, founded by Koch Industries, aimed to tackle this very issue and keep past inmates out of jail and into the workforce.  These $4 million programs allow interested inmates to meet with officials and work together to create a plan to successfully re-enter society and the workforce, largely determined by past education and programs the participants have completed.  These plans oftentimes involve educational opportunities within the inmates remaining time in prison so that they can re-enter the workforce as soon as possible after being release.  Upon the creation and implementation of this plan, these officials then closely monitor the ex-prisoners for 15 months to ensure progress.

Allowing ex-prisoners equal opportunity to work will not only allow them to turn their lives around, but will also begin to lessen crime that is committed to meet financial needs, and further will begin to close the present gap of available jobs and qualified applicants to fill these positions in the workforce.  Although many ex-offenders have difficulty securing jobs due to other issues such as not having a driver’s license or substance abuse, at least offering them the opportunity to interview will give a chance to better get to know them and possibly look past the stereotypes that prevent able ex-prisoners from working, benefitting both themselves and society.  In a time of such low unemployment, employers struggling to find applicants are overlooking a sector of people who are looking for work, and should greatly consider giving them a second chance to create a win-win for everyone.  It is also important for ex-prisoners to stay motivated and persistent in finding work, being aware of present skills and taking advantage of career development opportunities offered.  Here at SCPa Works, we believe strongly in these second chances, helping to pair qualified ex-offenders with local companies that have available positions.

Sources:

Cooper, Renee. “Ex-Prisoners Could Be the Answer to the Workforce Shortage.” MYNDNOW, MYNDNOW, 13 Nov. 2018, https://www.myndnow.com/news/bismarck-news/ex-prisoners-could-be-the-answer-to-the-workforce-shortage/1592193222.

“Ex-Offenders Need Job Opportunities, Not Stereotypes.” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Sept. 2010, https://www.sfgate.com/local/article/Ex-offenders-need-job-opportunities-not-658067.php.

Guza, Megan. “Western Pa. Inmates to Participate in Koch-Funded $4M Re-Entry Program.” TribLIVE.com, 31 Aug. 2018, https://triblive.com/local/allegheny/14028239-74/western-pa-inmates-to-participate-in-koch-funded-4m-reentry-program.

Plouffe, David, and Mark Holden. “Shutting Former Felons out of Opportunity Is Economically Foolish.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 23 Nov. 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/2018/11/23/former-felons-being-pushed-out-workforce-hurting-our-economy/2016435002/.