Friday, January 9, 2015

Labor Force Participation and Criminal Records

As the economy continues to improve, Republicans are increasingly desperate to find ways to criticize President Obama's leadership. With more good news from the Department of Labor today (252,000 jobs created in December and unemployment down to 5.6%), here's the spin from Reince Priebus:
“We’re glad to see jobs created, but Republicans believe we can and must do better than this—especially when we see so many people leaving the workforce and earnings declining. We must do better than having millions of Americans without work—and millions more giving up on finding work altogether,” said Chairman Priebus.
Democrats would be more than happy to talk with Priebus about ways to increase earnings for the American people. But as I've pointed out before, the drop in labor force participation (LFPR) is the result of a lot of complex factors - including Baby Boomer retirements.

Recently Shane Ferro at Business Insider explored the possibility that criminal records might be having "a huge impact on labor force participation."
If the LFPR really is being depressed by companies that won't hire people with criminal records, that cuts a huge chunk of the population off from a lot of job options — they are more likely to get discouraged, and more likely to never return to the labor force if they are unemployed.

Just how many people does it affect?...

The most widely cited estimate is about 65 million people, a little over 20% of the population. That number comes from a National Employment Law Project report from 2011 on this problem. It used 2008 data from the Justice Department, which showed that there were 92.3 million people with criminal records in the 50 states...

How much does having a criminal record affect employment prospects? It outright blocks people from being hired for many government jobs.

In the private sector the question is blurrier. An outright ban on hiring people with criminal records is considered to be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission...But in practice, there are plenty of ways around that. Employers are allowed to consider a criminal record as part of a larger application.
Given the disparities in our criminal justice system, this affects primarily men of color (the current rate of unemployment for African Americans is 10.4%, compared to 4.8% for white people).

This is certainly an issue that deserves much more attention - especially as so many people are looking at the possibilities for criminal justice reform. You up for that Reince? Or are you simply content with blaming President Obama?

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