Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The Prison Policy Initiative has released a report entitled “Out of Prison & Out of Work” that calculates the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated ex-offenders to be 27 percent, meaning that more than one out of four people who served time in prison and were released are looking for work but cannot find a job.

The 27 percent ex-offender unemployment rate – which even surpasses the 25 percent unemployment rate that all Americans experienced during the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s – is especially striking given that the report revealed ex-offenders are more likely to want to find work than the average American.

Among working-age individuals aged 25-44 years, the report found the unemployment rate for ex-offenders was 27.3 percent compared with just 5.2 percent unemployment for the general public. The fact that such a large amount of prime working-age ex-offenders are without jobs but wish to work suggests discrimination.

This disparity in unemployment among ex-offenders and the general public is especially dramatic for people of color and women who face the worst “prison penalty” in the job market, making historical inequalities in the labor force even worse. Here are the unemployment rates for ex-offenders and the general public.

  • White Men: General Population (4.3 Percent Unemployment Rate) Ex-Offenders (18.4 Percent Unemployment Rate).
  • White Women: General Population (4.3 Percent Unemployment Rate) Ex-Offenders (23.2 Percent Unemployment Rate).
  • Black Men: General Population (7.7 Percent Unemployment Rate) Ex-Offenders (35.2 Percent Unemployment Rate).
  • Black Women: General Population (6.4 Percent Unemployment Rate) Ex-Offenders (43.6 Percent Unemployment Rate).

The report also revealed ex-offender unemployment was highest soon after release from prison. Ex-offenders had an unemployment rate of 31.6 percent less than two years after release from prison, 21.1 percent two to three years after release from prison, and 13.6 percent four or more years after release from prison.

“These high unemployment rates reflect public will, policy, and practice – not differences in aspirations,” author Lucius Couloute stated in the report, which lays out solutions for closing the employment gap that include temporary incomes, automatic criminal record expungement, and occupational licensing reform.

For the estimated five million ex-offenders living in the U.S., landing a job “means finding a place in their communities and being able to care for their loved ones again.” However, the scale of the obstacles faced by ex-offenders in finding a job had been difficult to measure until now, according to a blog about the report.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report entitled ‘Prisoners in 2016’ that found over 600,000 people make the difficult transition from prisons to the community each year. Although there are many challenges involved in the transition, the roadblocks to securing a job have particularly severe consequences.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – a background check firm in the San Francisco, California area – “helps employers navigate the complex regulations around compliance and privacy laws, while providing resources and advocacy in helping ex-offenders find work,” according to a blog on

Dawn Standerwick – Vice President of Strategic Growth at ESR who brings 26 years of experience in workforce screening solutions – was interviewed by and told them about her company’s ongoing efforts to help ex-offenders rejoin the workforce and become contributors to society.

“There have been a lot of laws passed that are intended to help ex-offenders re-enter the workforce,” Standerwick said, adding that ESR helps ensure employers comply with the legal protections afforded ex-offenders while also providing comprehensive screening services that help keep workplaces safe.

ESR Offers Resources for Ex-Offenders Seeking Work

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a global background check firm – offers job seekers an Applicant Support Center that includes information about ex-offender resources and also a whitepaper on how ex-offenders can rejoin the workforce. To learn more, visit

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

© 2018 Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – Making copies or using of any part of the ESR News Blog or ESR website for any purpose other than your own personal use is prohibited unless written authorization is first obtained from ESR.

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