By Steve Matthews
Shea Rochester, who once spent a month in jail on an assault charge that was later dropped, is now wanted in a different way.
After a few months of job hunting, the 32-year-old recently got two offers in the same week. He accepted a $14.48-an-hour position at a Georgia factory that makes shortening and cooking oil.
As U.S. unemployment falls to the lowest level in a decade, driving it beneath what Federal Reserve officials consider is the lowest sustainable rate, people with blemishes on their resumes are getting second looks by employers trying to fill vacancies that currently stand at a near-record 5.7 million.
The stigma of criminal records, as well as erosion of job skills during incarceration, reduced employment of ex-offenders by as many as 1.9 million in 2014, the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates. While the government doesn’t track jobs for those with arrest records, people are increasingly getting hired, according to economists, companies and government officials interviewed for this article.
“As the job market tightens, employers are being forced to look at the worst hiring prospects who may have seriously flawed applications,” said Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former Labor Department economist.
Homebuilders are recruiting inmates who’ve taken carpentry and plumbing classes at a medium-security prison in Sheridan, Illinois, and are in talks to set up additional programs at facilities in Nevada, Wisconsin, California and Florida. The measures make sense for an industry trying to find an additional 200,000 construction workers.
“We have a huge labor shortage,” said Gerald Howard, chief executive officer of the National Association of Home Builders. “This has become a focus out of necessity.”