- In the U.S., the majority of unemployed men in their 30s have a history of being arrested or convicted of a crime, a RAND Corporation study found.
- More specifically, men age 30 to 38 who were unemployed in 2017 had significant involvement with the criminal justice system. RAND defined unemployed as being without a job for four weeks or more within the past year. Researchers looked at convictions, incarceration and arrests (excluding traffic-related offenses).
- Career development professionals and HR pros should focus more on the challenges faced by unemployed folks who have criminal records, RAND researchers suggested.
When 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, the link between unemployment and criminal history stigma is significant for talent professionals.
RAND’s study is noteworthy because it estimates criminal histories among men who are unemployed, whereas criminal justice research typically documents unemployment among formerly incarcerated people.
The study showed the majority of unemployed men had been arrested at least once. About 40% had been convicted at least once and about 20% had been incarcerated at least once. Notably, rates were similar among recently discouraged workers or men who were working fewer hours than they wanted.
In general, criminal history stigma is an inclusion issue. RAND found that Hispanic men had slightly higher rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration than White men. Additionally, arrest prevalence for all Black men (both employed and unemployed) was roughly 33% higher than for White men from ages 18 to 35, with a possible widening of that gap after age 30.
As outlined in RAND’s press release, there are disproportionately high rates of criminal justice involvement for Black people. This, coupled with systemic racism, creates a particularly tough environment for Black job seekers.
Legal shifts such as ban-the-box laws, first rolled out in 1998 by the Hawaiian state government, have forged a brighter future for workers with criminal records. Employment increased 4% in high-crime U.S. neighborhoods following elimination of criminal history questions, Case Western University researchers found.
In one consequence of ban-the-box policy implementation, employers were less likely to hire Black women. "It’s likely an increase in the hiring of black men came at the detriment of black women," Case Western researchers said. (A cautionary tale for HR: Be careful not to replicate different kinds of harm in place of others.) Additionally, researchers found that hiring increased significantly in low-wage and public-sector jobs, and positive results touched all income and skill levels in both urban and suburban areas.
“Employers need to understand that one big reason they cannot find the workers they need is too often they exclude those who have had involvement with the criminal justice system,” Shawn Bushway, the study’s lead researcher, said. The RAND senior policy researcher added that employers need to reconsider their protocols around and responses to applicants’ criminal history.
Because of differing laws at the state and federal level, criminal history questions can be a compliance nightmare. Often, HR departments overcome these challenges by running background checks and accessing applicant records through commercial databases.
“Most employers believe that most people with criminal histories will commit offenses again. But that is not the case. And the risk of reoffending drops dramatically as people spend more time free in the community without a new conviction,” Bushway said. “Employers need to adopt a more nuanced approach to the issue.”