NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Just Released, and Looking for a Job

March 15, 2001

Tens of thousands of convicts are leaving prison each year. Their first order of business will be to find a job. But potential employers won't look kindly on their applications -- even in today's tight labor market -- and, for many, their prospects of being hired are dim.

Labor experts say their plight will become a major public policy issue in this decade.

  • The prison population soared in the 1990s, from 1.2 million to 2 million -- with many of them incarcerated for drug-related crimes.
  • Many of those emerging from prison need an income and need it quickly -- since they may be under court orders to work, or to pay restitution to their victims or support their families.
  • Princeton University sociologist Bruce Western estimates that young black high-school dropouts with criminal records earn 10 percent to 30 percent less than their peers who don't have criminal records.
  • Western found that on a typical day two years ago, 29 percent of the nation's black male high school dropouts ages 22 to 30 were employed -- but 41 percent were in prison.

Source: Peter T. Kilborn, "Ex-Convicts Seen Straining U.S. Labor Force," New York Times, March 15, 2001.


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