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Out of Prison, Out of Work

Monday, October 3, 2016 13:11
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Justin Fox:

Out of Prison, Out of Work: …A single variable — having a criminal record — is a key missing piece in explaining why work rates and LFPRs [labor-force participation rates] have collapsed much more dramatically in America than other affluent Western societies over the past two generations. This single variable also helps explain why the collapse has been so much greater for American men than women and why it has been so much more dramatic for African American men and men with low educational attainment…

[T]he great incarceration wave that began in the 1970s has produced millions of ex-convicts who are ill-prepared for jobs or are discriminated against by employers even when they are prepared. …

This is on the one hand tragic: millions of American men who were imprisoned in the 1970s through 1990s have been thrust into a labor market that really doesn't want them. On the other hand, it is at least potentially fixable. Job displacement by technology is probably unstoppable, but how we punish crime is a public-policy choice. Incarceration rates have already been falling with the big declines in crime since the early 1990s, and the past few years have seen the growth of a bipartisan consensus (interrupted by the current presidential campaign, to be sure) that the U.S. throws too many people in prison for too long and doesn't do nearly enough to rehabilitate them. Prison and sentencing reform might actually be the country's best shot at thwarting that “linear trend” that would put a quarter of prime-age men out of work by 2050.

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