Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ex-Prisoners Are A Substantial Proportion Of The Unemployed In Low Income Neighborhoods

From Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Economic Commentary, "The Employability of Returning Citizens Is Key to Neighborhood Revitalization: Many roadblocks stand between a job and those coming home from prison" by O Emre Ergungor and Nelson Oliver:
One problem low-income communities may face in trying to revitalize is dealing with a high share of residents who are returning home after serving prison terms. Returning citizens often concentrate in low-income areas, and they typically lack the education and skills needed to find jobs. This Commentary reviews these and other barriers to employment, estimates the degree of unemployment, and describes some solutions emerging for this population.

"The best antipoverty program," the cliché goes, “is a good job.” But for people who have been in prison, jobs—let alone good ones—are hard to come by. (Note that agencies working to assist those who have served prison terms prefer to use the term “returning citizens” when referring to this population, a practice we will observe.)

Nobody really knows what the current unemployment rate is among returning citizens, but we do know that unemployment is extremely high in neighborhoods where returning citizens are concentrated.
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
 While the unemployment rate of the less-educated population was around 15 percent in 2010, 36 percent of New York probationers were looking for a job in the same year. Other estimates put the unemployment rate for returning citizens as high as 60 percent to 75 percent one year after release. Considering that in 2010, 40 percent of the general unemployed population has been looking for a job for more than 26 weeks—a post–World War II high—it is clear that people with a prison term on their resume are fighting an uphill battle.
Barriers to Gainful Employment
Returning citizens face many employment barriers. While the fear that a person with a criminal background could be violent or prone to repeat criminal activity might seem an obvious one, it is not a big concern for most employers. A far more significant barrier for returning citizens is that they lack the skills that are required in the labor market. The typical job candidate from this population lacks education, work experience, and soft skills like reliability and punctuality.

Surveys show that about 70 percent of offenders and returning citizens are high school dropouts and about half are functionally illiterate. Of those who had less than a GED upon admission to prison, only about 40 percent complete a GED while incarcerated.

Returning citizens often lack soft skills that employers look for, such as showing up to work every day and on time, working hard, being generally trustworthy, and having the necessary communication skills to interact with customers. Surveys of potential employers have shown that many employers are not necessarily worried about a repeat crime on their premises or being sued for having hired a returning citizen if something goes wrong. Rather, they are worried that returning citizens will not be good employees.

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