Hiring Felons: You Should Do It

Apparently they’re better employees.  As Yglesias points out, it’s easy to guess that ex-cons are good “moneyball” employees – they are so discriminated against in hiring that there is probably a lot of untapped talent in the field.  Incidentally, the same mechanism, though to a much lesser degree, also operates with female jobseekers.  But apparently it goes deeper than that – ex-cons are better employees on an absolute basis, not just better relative to their salary.  The CEO of data-mining HR firm Evolv thinks it is because of a sense of “loyalty” to employers.

Loyalty is a very diplomatic way to put it – I’d say coercive market power.  It’s really hard for an ex-con to find a job, especially one with livable pay and a faint sense of job security.  The potential costs of being dismissed are much higher to an ex-con than a comparable employee with no record.  So an ex-con that comes to work for you is motivated to work harder and be a better employee because he is really screwed if he gets put on the chopping block.  The prediction here is that if people took Evolv’s finding to heart and were more open to hiring ex-cons, their performance advantage would disappear.

Alternatively, it could be that prison has differential treatment effects.  Perhaps most people who wind up in prison end up totally socialized and can’t go back to regular society, but some actually learn productive coping methods.  They can more easily deal with stressful situations and challenging people, and so on. If that’s the case, then the advantage of ex-cons won’t go away even if the labor market becomes easier for them.  The important upshot is that you should be open to hiring ex-cons: it’s better for you as an employer, it’s the right thing to do, and most importantly you could provide a useful data point for political economy and/or social psychology.

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