Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

An estimated 64 percent of unemployed men in the United States have been arrested by the age of 35 while 46 percent of them have been convicted of a crime by the same age, with the rates varying only slightly by race and ethnicity, according to a study released by nonprofit research organization RAND Corporation. The findings also show differences between unemployed men who have a criminal history record and those who do not.

“Employers need to understand that one big reason they cannot find the workers they need is too often they exclude those who have had involvement with the criminal justice system,” Shawn Bushway, a senior policy researcher at RAND and the study’s lead author, stated in a news release. “Employers need to reconsider their protocols about how to respond when applicants have some type of criminal history.”

The study – which used information from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997) – found that American men between the ages of 30–38 who were unemployed in 2017 had substantial levels of involvement with the criminal justice system. The majority had been arrested at least once, almost 40 percent had been convicted at least once, and more than 20 percent had been incarcerated at least once.

Researchers said the findings published by the journal Science Advances suggest that employment services should focus more on the special challenges facing the unemployed who have criminal history records. While there has been much research documenting unemployment among those who have been incarcerated, the RAND study is the first to estimate the incidence of criminal histories among unemployed American men.

In the news release, researchers explained the main lesson from the study is that unemployment services need to do more to help people cope with their criminal histories. Researchers also said that efforts to bar employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications such as so-called “Ban-the-Box” laws are unlikely to have a major impact on helping unemployed men with criminal records.

Researchers said that efforts to help ex-offenders reenter the workforce such as “Ban the Box” will not have much impact because employers have easy access to criminal records of applicants through commercial databases and routinely review those records as a part of background checks done before new employees are hired, even if the question is left off job applications.

“Most government programs focus on providing the unemployed with new skills in order to get them into the workforce,” said Bushway, who also is a professor at the State University of New York at Albany. “But if you only focus on skills development, you are missing a big part of the problem. The unemployment system almost never looks at the role that criminal history plays in keeping people out of the workforce.”

Researchers also said that employers need to reconsider how they view the risks posed by applicants with criminal records. New and sophisticated prediction models that seek to understand the risk of recidivism – the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend – among people who apply for jobs could go a long way toward demonstrating the true relative risk of job applicants who have criminal records.

“Most employers believe that most people with criminal histories will commit offenses again,” Bushway said about the study, which defined being unemployed as being without a job for four weeks or more in the past year. “But that is not the case. And the risk of reoffending drops dramatically as people spend more time free in the community without a new conviction. Employers need to adopt a more nuanced approach to the issue.”

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a service offering of ClearStar, a leading provider of Human Capital Integrity℠ technology-based services – offers a complimentary white paper entitled “Critical Steps for Ex-Offenders to Get Back Into the Workforce” and an ex-offender resources page to help job applicants with criminal records find employment. To learn more about background checks, contact ESR today.

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