Prisoner reentry programs are one way employers are trying to fill some of the 11.3 million open jobs in the U.S. amid a dire national labor shortage. The practice of employing people with a criminal record is known as “second-chance hiring.” In rosier economic times, many former prisoners faced steep obstacles to finding work. The labor shortage prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic now presents them with opportunities, the Associated Press reports. “We think the pandemic, in a sense, was a big help,” said Eric Beamon, a recruiter for MagCor, which provides job training to people in Mississippi correctional facilities. “If no one wants to work anymore or if everyone wants to work from home, employers are begging for employees.” According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, barriers faced by people with felony convictions were linked to a loss of at least 1.7 million employees from the workforce and a cost of $78 billion to the economy in 2014.
The desperate straits in which employers now find themselves could help spur a change. In a 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, the SHRM Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute, fifty three percent of human resource professionals said they would be willing to hire people with criminal records — up from just thirty seven percent in 2018. Beamon, who staffed booths at a job fair for ex-prisoners in Jackson, Ms., recently — other companies represented included Waffle House, Amazon and Columbus, Mississippi-based Lyle Machinery — said he has seen an influx of new jobs and wages that are rising precipitously, some to $20 per hour. Mississippi has not enacted a state minimum wage, and the federal standard is still $7.25.