As some Wisconsin employers – largely in suburbs – to worry about finding the employees required to fill anticipated openings from retirements and business growth, ex-prisoners struggle to land decent work, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At 70,469, Wisconsin’s parole-probation population is a small part of the state’s 2.8 million-person labor force. Grouped together, it would be the fifth-largest city. Wisconsin has not only the nation’s highest incarceration rate for African-Americans but also the nation’s highest unemployment rate for African-American males.
Business executive Ray LaFever sees the wasted potential up close. He volunteers at Project Return, a Milwaukee non-profit group trying to help former inmates make a positive return to the community. In a typical week, between drug addiction counseling, job placement, employment preparation, and walk-ins, Project Return handles more than 750 former inmates. Bruce Western, a Princeton University sociologist, has found that in the past two decades nearly all the growth in the risk of imprisonment has been concentrated among men who didn’t go to college – the same demographic hardest hit by the decline in factory work. Western figures that had wage and employment levels of the 1980s persisted through the late ’90s, imprisonment rates for those men would have been 15% to 25% lower.