By Chandra Bozelko and Ryan Lo
Despite a record 6.7 million open jobs in America and the fact that nearly one-third of small businesses cannot fill open jobs, the stigma against hiring formerly incarcerated people is so severe that more than 27 percent of us are unemployed, according to a study out on Tuesday from the Prison Policy Initiative.
That is higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression, when unemployment was 25 percent — and it suggests that many businesses would prefer to leave positions open rather than hiring us, even though economists have speculated that people with felony records would have an easier time finding a job in this time of low reported rates of national unemployment.
But we don’t.
The negative perceptions about formerly incarcerated people persist because business owners and hiring managers aren’t aware that formerly incarcerated people aren’t the liabilities we’re made out to be. (For one, a supermajority of workplace crime is perpetrated by people who don’t work at the site or have no criminal record whatsoever.) In fact, ex-offenders can actually be better for business than other categories of employees.
Researchers at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, for instance, studied data on approximately 250,000 applicants for sales and customer service jobs in the U.S., they found that ex-offenders who secured jobs were no more likely to be fired than non-offenders in the same positions. We’re also less likely to quit, making turnover amongst people with criminal records lower than typical employees.
And, when the U.S. military eliminated its ban on people with criminal records and allowed them to enlist, those people performed better than their non-convicted counterparts and were promoted sooner and more often.