Jul 17, 2017

States look to ex-cons to relieve labor shortages

Sue Ogrocki/AP

South Carolina's unemployment rate is at such historic lows that the state's employers are complaining of labor shortages, reports Charleston's The Post and Courier. The state is responding with job training programs for convicts that have helped participants find jobs at a 75% rate, well above the 25%-40% employment rates for ex-convicts nationwide.

South Carolina's push is just one of several efforts by governments around the country to combat joblessness among ex-offenders, a population that includes one-in-fifteen working age adults, per the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Why this is happening now: Policymakers are hoping to respond to complaints from employers about a lack of qualified workers, but economists are also warning that ex-convicts' absence from the labor force could be a long-term headwind for the economy too.

  • The U.S. prison population has increased five-fold over the past 50 years, and it's estimated that there may be close to 5 million working-age adults with felony convictions.
  • If these would-be workers are being kept from jobs because of the effects of the justice system, that means lost wages for families and communities that need it most.
  • The growth of the labor force is slowing as the U.S. population ages, and that means the U.S. economy could benefit from job re-entry programs now more than ever.

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