The New Scarlet Letter?: Negotiating the U.S. Labor Market with a Criminal Record


Steven Raphael - The numbers are eye-opening. In 2007, on any given day, 2.2 percent of all males in the United States were incarcerated, including 7.9 percent of all black males. Some 2.6 percent of white males , 7.7 percent of Hispanic males, and 16.6 percent of black males have spent time in state or federal prison at some point in their lives. And for a male child born in 2001, the likelihood of going to prison is 5.9 percent for whites, 17.2 percent for Hispanics, and a whopping 32.2 percent for blacks. Of those who spend time in prison, the overwhelming majority will be released back into society, thereby becoming potential participants in the U.S. labor market. But the barriers they confront as they try to gain employment are substantial: they face the lack of public assistance, poor employment prospects, the reluctance of employers to hire ex-convicts because of liability issues, and the stigma associated with being an ex-convict. This has policymakers focused on ways to facilitate reentry into the labor market for this growing population. Steven Raphael provides a concise overview of this issue. First, he studies the factors that influence the market s supply and demand sides. Next, he presents an empirical portrait of the inmate population, recently released inmates, and the youth who eventually enter the prison system as young adults. Raphael reviews what is known about how employers use criminal histories in screening job applicants and the empirical research on the effects of a criminal record on labor market outcomes; he then describes programs designed to help inmates enter the labor force that show positive results. Raphael concludes with a set of policy recommendations aimed at addressing the concerns of employers and preparing inmates for the labor force as they exit the prison system.

Publication date: 
January 1, 2014
Publication type: 
Raphael, S. (2014). The New Scarlet Letter?: Negotiating the U.S. labor market with a criminal record. W.E. Upjohn Institute.