Most Unemployed Men in Their 30s Have Criminal History, Study Finds

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 4, 2022

More than half of unemployed men between the ages of 30 and 38 have a criminal history record, a recent study estimates, raising questions about the use of preemployment screening as many employers struggle to recruit and fill job vacancies.

According to the study, by age 35, approximately 64% of unemployed men have been arrested as adults for a nontraffic offense, and 46% have been convicted. The criminal history rates varied only slightly by race and ethnicity, but the authors noted that this fact "does not mean that the experience of the stigma of having a [criminal history record] is similar across racial groups" and emphasized that criminal history stigma "combines with discrimination based on race to create additional problems for black men in particular."

The researchers defined unemployment as nonemployment with an active job search lasting four or more consecutive weeks in a calendar year and considered those who were unemployed for more than 39 weeks in a year to be out of the labor force. However, results were similar when the researchers included "discouraged workers" (or those who had stopped searching for work) and those working part time who would prefer full-time work, alongside those who fit within the traditional definition of unemployment.

To better connect this "underutilized" group of potential workers with job opportunities, the study authors recommended increased resources for unemployed job seekers with criminal records. Although many career and skill development assistance organizations claim to provide information targeted to job seekers with criminal history, the study noted that many of these resources lack information on state ban the box laws or other restrictions on the types of pre-employment inquiries employers can legally make regarding criminal history.

Many states and local jurisdictions have enacted laws that prohibit employers from seeking criminal history information in job applications. Some of these laws go further, in some cases banning inquiries into arrest records, prohibiting employers from inquiring into criminal history until extending a conditional employment offer or requiring employers to analyze the relationship between a job and an individual's criminal history before disqualifying the person from an opportunity based on the results of a criminal background check.

The study was published in Science Advances, the open-access journal of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 (NLSY97), which follows a cohort of people born between 1980 and 1984 and residing in the United States and collects information on labor market participation, educational attainment, criminal justice involvement, health, income and demographic details.