Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unemployed with Conviction!

Numbers. Cold. Lifeless. Sometimes numbing. Being out of work, desperate for a job, a paycheck. Cold. Life-killing. Spirit-destroying. 10.2% national unemployment (15.7 million Americans out of work), but when you add those who want full time jobs but have given up or only can find part-time or occasional work, it flies up to 17.5% (the “alternative measurement”). Worse: District of Columbia – 11.9%; South Carolina – 12.1%; California – 12.5%; Rhode Island – 12.9%; Nevada – 13%; Michigan – 15.1%. And in almost all these states, the alternative measurement pushes the numbers out so that more than one in every five members in the labor force are under- or unemployed! The worst employment numbers in over a quarter of a century.

Terrible times and terrible numbers, likely to be that way for several years. (Nov. 13th): “Unemployment… won't begin to show signs of improvement until the second quarter of 2010. Even then, it will take until 2013 for half the states to regain their previous peak employment levels. That's according to analysis from economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight… IHS argues that the U.S. economy is recovering, albeit at a glacial pace. It sees Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Montana and North and South Dakota returning to their previous peak employment levels in 2010 to 2011… New York, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are among the states that will make a comeback in 2012, while California, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia are among those expected to recover the following year. IHS doesn't expect Connecticut, Ohio and Michigan are laggards to recover until after 2015.” Tough times ahead.

But if you’ve been convicted of a felony? Served your time? Fo’getaboutit! Try this little blurb from (Nov. 13th): “That is really bad news for the hundreds of thousands of ex-convicts who are released from prison every year. ‘They're always at the back of the line, and the line just got a lot longer,’ said Glenn Martin, vice president of the Fortune Society in Queens, a nonprofit that trains ex-convicts in job hunting skills. ‘On top of that, our folks are losing jobs just like anyone else, but it's more difficult to replace those jobs, because of the stigma of criminal conviction. Our folks can't get through the door these days.’

“In the most recent available figures from the U.S. Department of Justice, 713,473 prisoners were released from incarceration in 2006. There are no nationwide numbers reflecting unemployment rates among ex-convicts… But up to 60% of the formerly incarcerated in New York state are unemployed after one year of their release, according to a study from the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment, of which Martin is a member. The number is even higher for parole violators, at 89%.”

Most folks who are out of work are likely to think that they should be hired long before an ex-felon is considered, and it seems that most employers are agreeing with them. However, we already know that, as one Department of Justice study points out, “over two-thirds of released prisoners [are] rearrested within three years.” Maybe that’s an argument for not hiring ex-felons in the first place, but I suspect that it’s much more an indication of the hopelessness of rebuilding a life after a serious conviction. If anything, the incredibly high jobless rate among ex-felons seems to be an open invitation to turn back to criminal activity to make a living.

How many of us would be willing to give an ex-felon a break, to feel comfortable working with someone who crossed the line and served time? How many of us would even think of hiring someone with this background to work for or with us? It’s even harder for us to feel charitable when unemployment is generally so bad, but if we do not…. They are no easy choices, particularly in such economically impaired times.

I ‘m Peter Dekom, and I approve this message.

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