Nicholas Eberstadt’s recent book, “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis”, highlights the need to understand the underlying causes of prime-age male joblessness in this country. His chapter on criminality argues that incarceration trends over the past several decades play a major role. He writes (page 133):
Only a tiny fraction of all Americans ever convicted of a felony are actually incarcerated at this moment. Maybe 90 percent of all sentenced felons today are out of confinement and living more or less among us.
This means that the vast majority of people, mainly men, who have been incarcerated for a crime are out and in need of employment. Low education levels, limited hard and soft skills, and difficult family circumstances are all highly correlated with past incarceration, placing ex-offenders at a particular disadvantage compared to other job seekers.
Many states and localities have developed re-entry programs to address the difficulties faced by the formerly incarcerated, a number of which show positiveimpacts. But in a possibly overlooked study from last year, a simple intervention that focused on getting recent ex-offenders quickly into the labor market showed very large positive effects on recidivism for nonviolent offenders. From the study:
Only 31.1 percent of nonviolent ex-offenders who received enhanced training were arrested during the 18 to 36 months in which they were tracked, compared with 50 percent of similar participants who received standard training.
The intervention focused on short-term (1-2 weeks) of job readiness training followed by quick attachment to the job market through business relationships developed by the provider, America Works. The study used a random assignment design and the control group benefitted from the job readiness training but were sent to do self-directed job search. The intervention was estimated to cost $5,000 per participant, suggesting that the cost/benefit of such a large reduction in re-arrests would be substantial.
The intervention did not work for everyone. Violent offenders had the same recidivism rates no matter the intervention, and those with past drug crimes and a higher number of past arrests also did not seem to benefit. But the impacts for nonviolent offenders as a whole were very impressive.
The results highlight the need to consider the vast differences in the re-entering population, and suggests that a fairly simple intervention that is focused exclusively on work can have substantial positive effects. Scaling up these types of effective interventions may start to address the problem of America’s un-working men.