Low unemployment means a criminal record is less of a hurdle

Apr 19, 2019

A tightening labor market is pushing employers to hire more unskilled workers, including people with criminal records.

During the Great Recession, when the labor market was filled with unemployed, overqualified workers applying for jobs, companies eliminated many low-skilled positions through automation and had the luxury of increasing the skill requirements for the jobs they kept.

But now the unemployment rate has dropped to below 4 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in 2009. Instead of choosing from a glut of applicants with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, employers are being forced to consider applicants with little to no training at all, including ex-convicts.

A survey from the National Federation of Independent Businesses recently found that 52 percent of companies said they had few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.

The labor shortage is not limited to any one industry. The Federal Reserve recently indicated that companies are having “difficulty finding qualified labor” across a “wide range of occupations.” Those include engineers, construction and manufacturing workers, IT professionals and truck drivers.

That translates to more opportunities for people recently released from prison.

Indications show that employers are warming to the practice of hiring ex-offenders and even giving a second chance to applicants they might have previously dismissed. In 2018, 646 employers in Wisconsin sought tax credits for hiring a former offender, up from 484 employers in 2017 and 375 in 2016, according to data from the state Department of Workforce Development.


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