Out of Prison and Out of Work: Looking for Solutions

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Formerly incarcerated people need stable jobs for the same reasons as everyone else: to support themselves and their loved ones, pursue life goals, and strengthen their communities. But how many formerly incarcerated people are able to find work? Answering this fundamental question has historically been difficult, because the necessary national data weren’t available — that is, until now.

Using a nationally representative dataset, we provide the first ever estimate of unemployment among the 5 million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States. Our analysis shows that formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% — higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.

Our estimate of the unemployment rate establishes that formerly incarcerated people want to work, but face structural barriers to securing employment, particularly within the period immediately following release. For those who are Black or Hispanic — especially women — status as “formerly incarcerated” reduces their employment chances even more. This perpetual labor market punishment creates a counterproductive…



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