Most unemployed young males have criminal records, making them ineligible for employment.


As many as half of the unemployed American men in their 30s have a criminal record, which makes it more difficult for them to join the labor sector, according to a recent RAND Corporation study.

Men who are unemployed at the age of 35 are more likely than those who are employed to be arrested, and 46 percent are more likely than those who are employed to be convicted of some form of crime.


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For those unemployed with a criminal record, researchers said their findings in Science Advances imply that employment agencies should focus more on their unique issues.

According to Shawn Bushway, the study’s principal author and RAND, a nonprofit research company, “Employers need to understand that one key reason they cannot locate the workers they need is that too often they exclude those who have had participation in the criminal justice system,” Bushway said.

There is a need for employers to reexamine their procedures for dealing with job applicants who have a criminal record.

Even though there is extensive research on unemployment among jailed individuals, this RAND study is the first to determine how many unemployed American men have a criminal past.

As many as one in three American adults have been arrested at some point in their lives as a result of aggressive police enforcement activities throughout the past few decades.

As a result, finding work is more difficult for males than for women who have a criminal record. The high rates of criminal justice participation and the pervasive racism and prejudice that Black people face may make finding work extremely challenging for them.

RAND researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997) to estimate the number of unemployed young males with a criminal history who are now out of work. An estimated 9,000 people born between 1980 and 1984 took part in the study, with replies analyzed by researchers.

Men’s engagement in the criminal justice system was analyzed from 2010 to 2017.

For the purposes of this research, being unemployed meant being jobless for a period of at least four weeks in the previous year. In order to better understand the criminal justice system, researchers looked at arrests, convictions, and incarceration after the age of 18, omitting traffic offenses.

Men aged 30 to 38 who were unemployed in 2017 had a high level of engagement in the criminal court system, according to the research.

There were many people in this group who had been arrested at least once, about 40% had been convicted at least once, and over 20% had been jailed. When researchers included recently discouraged individuals and those who were working fewer hours than they desired, the outcomes were nearly identical.

Black men’s arrest rate was 33% greater than that of their white counterparts between the ages of 18 and 35, with some evidence that the difference grows further in their 30s.

Although the differences between white men and Hispanic men were not statistically significant, Hispanic men were arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at higher rates than white men.

However, the study indicated that during most of the life cycle investigated, unemployed Black, Hispanic, and white males have equal rates of engagement with the criminal justice system when simply looking at those men who have experienced periods of unemployment.

A major takeaway from the study by researchers is that unemployment services must do more to assist those with criminal records.

A professor at the State University of New York in Albany, Bushway says, “Most government programs focus on providing new skills in order to get the unemployed into employment.

“However, if your exclusive focus is on improving employees’ skills, you’re overlooking a significant portion of the problem. A person’s criminal history is almost never taken into account when determining their eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Unemployment among men with criminal records will not be helped significantly by legislation prohibiting employers from inquiring about a person’s criminal history on a job application (so-called “Ban-the-Box” laws), according to researchers.

Even if the question is not asked on job applications, employers have easy access to criminal records of candidates through commercial databases and regularly evaluate these records as part of background checks conducted before new employees are employed.

Employers are urged to reassess their perception of the risks posed by applicants with criminal backgrounds, according to a new study. People with criminal records who apply for jobs could benefit from new, advanced prediction algorithms that examine the likelihood of re-offending in the future.

According to Bushway, “the majority of employers feel that the majority of people with criminal pasts will commit offenses once again. “However, this isn’t true. People’s chances of re-offending plummet as they spend more time in the community unhindered by a new conviction. A more nuanced approach is needed by the employers.”

Shawn Bushway, Jessica Welburn Paige, Daniel Schwam, and Jeffrey B. Wenger, “Barred from employment: More than half of unemployed men in their 30s had a criminal history of arrest,” Science Advances, 18 February 2022.

Arnold Ventures supplied funding for the project. Irineo Cabreros, Jessica Welburn Paige, Daniel Schwam, and Jeffrey B. Wenger are also co-authors of the paper.

RAND’s Social and Economic Well-Being division aims to actively improve the health, social, and economic well-being of populations and communities around the world.

RAND’s Education and Labor branch conducts research and analysis to help students and workers alike succeed academically and economically.


Master of Science student at the California Institute of Technology, Devanny. Since he began working as a freelance writer more than 4 years ago, he has contributed to various publications, including blogs, magazines, poetry websites, newspapers, and internet debates. Pankaj has been contributing original content to The Current in a freelance capacity throughout the past year. Words from Pankaj: "Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier."