As 600,000 formerly imprisoned individuals enter society each year, employment opportunities are crucial in aiding their difficult transition. However, in seeking employment, formerly incarcerated populations are challenged by structural hurdles overlaid by deeply embedded systemic racism and sexism. According to Prison Policy, formerly incarcerated individuals are more likely to be actively looking for work or unemployed – 93.3% are “active” in the labor market, compared to 83.3% of their counterparts seeking work or employment.
The report also suggests the importance and urgency of employment services immediately before or after release, with unemployment rates highest within the first two years of release. Up to a year following their release, 60-75% of this population remain unemployed. Labor unions and community advocates have played pivotal roles in providing employment services for the formerly incarcerated, including the Trade-Related Apprenticeship Coaching, Carpenters Local 1503, and Northern California Construction Training. The US Department of Labor pledged $5 million in 2015 to provide employment services to inmates in the United States. However, such programs and opportunities have wide discrepancies with no streamlined transition for employment.
Employment rates should not be the sole indicators of success for former inmates’ transitions. Employment for these individuals is often limited to vulnerable and low-paying jobs, with most employed former inmates landing below the poverty line. Existing roots of inequity in the overall job market exacerbates the situation for formerly incarcerated populated populations who are female, Black, and/or Hispanic. Such individuals are more likely to land part-time, low-paying, and occasional positions than white male former inmates.
Employment for formerly incarcerated individuals is increasingly important, with growing incarceration numbers, coupled with unprecedented job markets. As financial security is the foundation of stable, safe living environments for this vulnerable population, discussions, and actions for opportunities and sustainable integration into society must continue.
Recap: Key Learnings
Over 600,000 formerly incarcerated individuals are released each year, facing difficulties in transitioning into society and the job market.
Up to a year following their release, 60-75% of this population remain unemployed.
Even upon employment, former inmates often struggle with financial and social insecurity due to low-paying, vulnerable jobs, exacerbated by existing inequity of the job market.