Employment counselor Lee Basile helps facilitate an employment workshop at...

Employment counselor Lee Basile helps facilitate an employment workshop at The Fortune Society, a Queens-based organization that provides job placement and training services for people with criminal records. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

More than half of unemployed young men in the United States, including thousands on Long Island, have some sort of a criminal record by their mid-30s, according to new research.

An estimated 64% of jobless males were found to have been arrested at least once by the time they turned 35, according to research released last week by the RAND Corporation. Of that same group, 46% were found to have been convicted of a crime and a little over 20% had been incarcerated.

Those criminal record rates vary little between white, Black and Hispanic men, researchers said.

Shawn Bushway, an author of the study and senior policy researcher on leave from the University at Albany, said the research suggests workforce employment services should do more to aid those with criminal records.

Bushway said that career one-stops — federally sponsored career centers that help job seekers update their skills and search for work opportunities — don't typically think about those with records as "a big part of their clientele."

The centers should make helping those with criminal backgrounds land jobs a core part of their programs, not just the niche service it's often presented as, he said.

Last month Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed several initiatives aimed at increasing job opportunities and lowering recidivism for the formerly incarcerated.

Among them was a proposed "Jails to Jobs" program, which would include training parole officers in career planning, reversing a ban on financial aid for prisoners pursuing degrees in jail, and a push for legislation that would seal certain felony records after seven years and misdemeanor records after three.

The RAND study's discovery that criminal record rates among the unemployed vary little between racial groups suggests discriminatory practices that weed out Black and brown job applicants on the assumption they are more likely to have a criminal history are not just racist — they're misguided too.

"Among those who are unemployed, there is no correlation between racial identity and criminal history," Bushway said. Using race as the basis to assume criminal history is "in addition to being illegal and really disgusting, also really ineffective."

"Sometimes the story with mass incarceration almost makes it seem like the only people getting incarcerated are Black men, but that’s not true," he said.

Estimates from the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based think tank and advocate for prison reform, showed the unemployment rate for former inmates reached 27.4% in 2008, the latest year such data is available. That same year, the jobless rate for the American population overall was 5.8%. Unemployment for those with convictions or a history of incarceration is not tracked by the state Labor Department.

"We leave people who have a criminal record on the unemployment rolls in perpetuity," said Ronald F. Day, vice president of programs at The Fortune Society, a Long Island City, Queens, nonprofit that provides employment prep services to former inmates.

Facilitator Wayne Booker leads an employment workshop at The Fortune...

Facilitator Wayne Booker leads an employment workshop at The Fortune Society. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

"You would think those people might be able to get an opportunity right now," Day said, citing declining labor pools in the region and increased difficulty in hiring for employers.

And while Day said he understands the concerns that some employers might have in hiring someone with a record, he emphasized the importance of looking at the responsibilities of the job, the individual's skill set, and then making a determination about whether their background would compromise their work or invite unacceptable risks.

"We’re not saying give someone a job that doesn’t have the skills and qualifications," he said.

While high unemployment rates among those with records has become the norm, Bushway said finding that so many unemployed men have a criminal history shines a new light on how legislators and employers should think about helping the jobless.

"It’s true that most of the people who are unemployed, their education background isn’t good, and they need job skills," he said. "But that job search and those skills are going to be limited by criminal records."

The study, published by the journal Science Advances, used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a sample size of 8,894 men and women born between 1980 and 1984. The data set includes annual survey results between 1997 and 2011, and every other year since.

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