[HOT] – In a Tight Labor Market, Even Inmates Are Landing Jobs

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] The rapid tightening of the labor market is forcing companies across the country to consider the workers they would once have hijacked. This provides opportunities for people who have long faced barriers to employment, such as criminal records, disabilities or long periods of unemployment.

In Dane County, Wisconsin, where the unemployment rate was only 2% in November. the demand for workers has become so intense that manufacturers are pushing their recruitment even further: making prisoners work in factories even when they are serving their prison sentences.

"When the unemployment rate is high, you can afford not to hire someone who has a criminal record, you can afford not to hire someone who has been unemployed for two years, "said Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard economist and former Treasury Secretary. "When the unemployment rate is lower, employers are adapting to people rather than asking people to adapt to it."

The US economy does not have the same effect. has not experienced this kind of fierce competition since the late 1990s and early 2000s, the last time the unemployment rate – currently 4.1% – was so low.

The tight labor market has not yet translated into strong wage growth for American workers. But there are tentative signs that this too could change – especially for low-wage workers who have been largely excluded from the early stages of economic recovery. Walmart said Thursday that it would increase the salary of beginning workers starting in February; its competitor Target announced a similar move last fall.

Employers also become more flexible in other respects. Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based software company that analyzes data from the job market, has found an increase in open displays for people without experience. And unemployment rates have fallen sharply in recent years for people with disabilities or without a high school diploma.

Until recently, someone like Jordan Forseth might have struggled to find work. Mr. Forseth, 28, was released from prison in November after serving a 26-month sentence for burglary and firearm possession. Mr. Forseth, however, had a job before even getting out of the Oregon Correctional Center.

Almost every morning of the week for much of last year, Mr. Forseth was boarding a minivan at least … He then went to Stoughton Trailers, where, with more than a dozen other inmates, he earned $ 14 from taillights and built flanks for the company 's line of semi – trailers

. Mr. Forseth continued to work in Stoughton. But instead of getting into the jail van, he goes to work in the 2015 Ford Fusion that he bought with the money he saved during his incarceration.

"It's a second chance," said Mr. Forseth. "I think we are showing up there to be pretty solid workers."

Forseth was lucky in part because of the red labor market in Dane County. Stoughton Trailers, a family-owned manufacturer that employs approximately 650 people in its county mill, has increased salaries, offered referral bonuses and expanded its in-house training program. But Meghen Yeadon, a recruiter from Stoughton, found part of the solution: a part-time work program of the Wisconsin Corrections Department for minimum-security inmates. For inmates, who are remunerated at the same rate as other workers, the program is a chance to build up savings, gain job skills and prepare for life after prison.

Ms. Yeadon first encountered supervisors' skepticism. But as the local labor pool continued to shrink, it became increasingly difficult to exclude a group of potential – albeit unconventional – workers

"Our Company is looking for new ways to find people. to be so high, "said Mrs. Yeadon." It just took them to hear the right sales pitch. "

Other companies make similar choices. other states with similar inmate programs say that demand for their workers has risen sharply over the past year, and while most companies may not be ready to turn to inmate work, There are signs that they are increasingly inclined to consider candidates with criminal histories who have long had difficulty finding work on the job for people with criminal records. from the private sector suggest that companies are becoming more willing to consider hiring them.Burning Glass data showed that 7.9% of online job offers indicated that a background check c riminals was required, down from 8.9% in 2014.

Mike Wynne saw the change in mentality of employers. Mr. Wynne runs Emerge Community Development, a non-profit organization in Minneapolis that helps people with criminal or other hardships find employment. In the past, Wynne said that companies considered working with Emerge primarily as a form of public relations. But with the unemployment rate in the Minneapolis region at 2.1%, businesses are turning more and more to Emerge as a source of work.

"We see employers knocking on the door of our organization in a way we have." Mr. Wynne said:

While employers are plunging deeper into the pool of manpower available, workers leave the economy gap. The participation rate at what economists call the very active age workers – people from 25 at age 54 – peaked in seven years in December.Employment gains were particularly strong for groups that are often discriminated against: the unemployment rate of African Americans fell to 6.8% in November, the lowest ever recorded.

Amy Glaser, vice president of Adecco, said that, especially during the last holiday season, there was an increase of demand for warehouse workers, creating opportunities for workers who may have had difficulty finding work earlier in the economic recovery. Two years ago, Ms. Glaser stated that companies demanded that warehouse workers have high school diplomas and experience with scanners used for tracking goods. Now, more and more, they do not need it, she says.

"We have witnessed extreme escalation in the last 12 months," said Ms. Glaser. "If someone is applying for a job and you do not get it within 24 hours, that person will have already taken another job."

Even during the strong economy that accompanied the real estate boom in the mid-2000s, the unemployment rate has never been less than 4.4%, and the United States has never reached the point where all those who wanted a job could get one. This may have resulted in stagnant incomes for many middle class families, and many groups who have always been discriminated against or disadvantaged in the labor market do not have the same income. have never fully benefited from the strength of the economy

the recovery still has some way to go before rivaling that of the late 1990s and early 2000s. dropped almost as far back as in 2000, when it hit 3.8 percent. But millions of Americans still have part-time or temporary jobs, or are completely inactive. And parts of the country are still scarred by the recession that officially ended almost ten years ago.

"I think the late '90s was a very healthy job market," Narayana Kocherlakota said. President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "When I look at the United States today, I think it's got some room for growth to reach that kind of health."

Yet, household incomes have risen rapidly over the last two years, with the biggest gains for those living in the poorest families. And there are signs that the tightening of the labor market is finally starting to shift the bargaining power of businesses to workers. Ahu Yildirmaz, an economist who helps lead the research department of the payroll processing company ADP, said that her firm's data showed more people who were changing jobs and getting bigger ones moguls for this

work at Stoughton Trailers was an opportunity to save money and prove its value. He even earned the employee's award of the month – even though he was still incarcerated, he could not take advantage of the parking space that accompanied him.

Now he thinks bigger. Other jobs in the region pay higher wages, and his freedom has opened up more options. He spoke to another local company, which is interested in training him to become an estimator – a salaried job that would pay more and offer room for advancement.

"They say they want to teach someone who wants to learn," Forseth said. "It would be a real career."

A recruiter from Stoughton Trailers found that supervisors were skeptical when she suggested hiring inmates. They became more receptive when the local labor pool continued to tighten. Credit Narayan Mahon for the New York Times

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