e.g., welfare recipients, applicants with a GED but no high school diploma, applicants with
spotty work histories, and applicants who have been unemployed for a year or more.
Approximately 93 percent of employers indicate that they would definitely or probably hire
former or current welfare recipients, 97 percent indicate that they would probably or definitely
hire workers with a GED in lieu of a high school diploma, 66 percent indicate that they would
hire workers with a spotty employment history, while 80 percent indicate that they are likely to
consider an application from an individual who has been unemployed for a year or more. In
contrast, only 20 percent of employers indicate that they definitely or probably would accept an
application from an ex-offender. Even if we include the “depends on the crime” response to this
category, the fraction of employers that would consider ex-offenses (55 percent) is still well
below that for these other groups.
There are several considerations on both the supply- and demand-sides of the labor
market that suggest that serving time in prison may adversely affect employment prospects. The
incarcerated do not accumulate work experience and may experience an erosion of skills while
serving time. Furthermore, any ties to legitimate employers are likely to be severed by an initial
arrest and by a prison spell. From the viewpoint of employers, a criminal history record may
signal an untrustworthy or otherwise problematic employee. Employers may avoid such workers
due to a perceived increased propensity to break rules, steal, or harm customers.
This unwillingness of employers to hire ex-offenders may be prompted by fiat or fear of
litigation. Certain occupations, such as jobs with contact with children, are legally closed to
individuals with felony convictions under state and, in some cases, federal law (Hahn 1991). In
addition, employers may place a premium on the trustworthiness of employees, especially in jobs
market that they experienced in the past decade, it is also possible that the cross-sectional differences reflect variation in attitudes, political climate, and other such factors.