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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Searching For Work with a Criminal Record

  • Author(s): Smith, Sandra Susan
  • Broege, Nora C. R.
  • et al.

To date, researchers have been very attentive to how the stigma of criminality informs employers’ hiring decisions, and, in the process, diminishes the employment opportunities afforded to jobseekers so stigmatized. Few researchers, however, have investigated the extent to which criminal records also shape jobseekers’ search strategies in ways that either attenuate or amplify the effects of their negative credentials. We fill this gap in the literature by investigating how arrest, conviction, and incarceration affect the scope of jobseekers’ search efforts as well as the specific methods they deploy. We then examine the extent to which gaps in job search success can be attributed to stigmatized jobseekers’ search strategies. Analysis of the NLSY97 reveals that arrestees and former prisoners (but not ex-convicts) are disadvantaged both by the scope of their search efforts and by the specific methods they use. Arrestees are less likely than non-offenders to find work during the search process because they use fewer search methods, and because they over-invest in ineffective methods while under-investing in more effective methods. Although former prisoners are also disadvantaged by over- and under-investing, we primarily attribute their lower odds of search success to the differential impacts of their search strategies. Even when the scope and nature of their searches mirror those of non-offenders, their searches are less likely to end successfully. By bringing “search” into debates on punishment and inequality, we provide a new and complementary way to understand how a criminal record negatively affects jobseekers’ chances of finding work.

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