According to this article from the Wall Street Journal, companies are hiring ex-convicts in an increased rate from the past.
Erickson Cos., a Chandler, Ariz., based construction firm, has hired almost 30 former inmates from Arizona state prisons over the past year to build frames for new homes, an effort to cope with skilled-labor scarcity.
“We’re searching for every alternative avenue that we possibly can to help solve this labor shortage,” Rich Gallagher, Erickson’s chief executive, said in an interview.
Erickson is part of what appears to be a nationwide trend. As the jobless rate falls, employers in places including Arizona, Indiana and Maryland are scouring the fringes of the labor market for able-bodied workers, including ex-offenders.
Erickson, which has about 250 employees in Arizona and roughly 1,000 nationwide, has been recruiting directly from corrections department job fairs for prisoners nearing release. Karen Hellman, director of inmate programs and re-entry, said there has been a noticeable uptick in companies looking to hire inmates this year.
National data on hiring of ex-offenders isn’t available, but other state correctional systems across the U.S. and training programs for ex-offenders report similar experiences.
“I’ve never dealt with employers who are more willing to hire ex-felons,” said John Nally, who started working at the Indiana Department of Correction in 1967 and is now its director of education. “It is a totally different landscape when you have an unemployment rate of 3.6%. We have all these people in construction who are literally begging for workers.”
Indiana’s unemployment rate was 3.6% in April and fell to 3.2% in May.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low in May and the number of job openings climbed to a record in April, according to separate Labor Department reports, underscoring tightness in the labor market. In a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, nearly half of small businesses said they could find few or no qualified workers for the positions they were trying to fill.
“Contacts across a broad range of industries reported a shortage of qualified workers which had limited hiring,” the Federal Reserve said in its most recent summary of economic conditions.
More than 600,000 sentenced prisoners nationwide are released from state or federal prisons each year. Research shows that most struggle to find steady work and stable housing—and frequently end up offending again.
The vast majority—nearly 90% in the Indiana study—of ex-offenders have a high-school diploma or less, putting them at a distinct disadvantage among a population that already has higher unemployment and lower participation rates than those with at least some college.
But as the labor market tightens, their fortunes improve.