Three people at a job interview with a resume on the table

Jobs and Criminal Records

Photo by ijeab / Adobe Stock

An estimated 64.6 million Americans (25 percent of the population) have a criminal record; of those, 19.8 million have at least one felony criminal conviction. This has far-reaching economic consequences for the United States, in large part because people with criminal records face more barriers to being hired than other marginalized groups. RAND researchers are studying ways of addressing employment and income needs for people with criminal records.

Incentivizing Employers to Hire Ex-Offenders

Because of the economic implications of having a criminal record, federal, state and local officials have developed a range of policies to encourage employers to hire ex-offenders, with varying degrees of success. To inform policies and programs aimed at improving employment rates for ex-offenders, RAND researchers examined employer preferences regarding policy options aimed at providing incentives to hiring individuals with one nonviolent felony conviction.

To predict the hiring behavior of employers, we conducted a discrete choice experiment, a quantitative method in which people are asked to state their preferences regarding hypothetical goods or services—or, in this case, policies.

Key Findings

  • Given a choice between a job candidate with an increased tax credit (from a maximum of $2,500 to $5,000) or validated previous work performance, employers are 24 percent more likely to choose the candidate with validated work performance history.
  • Employers were 69 percent more likely to consider hiring an ex-felon if they were referred by an agency with a guarantee replacement program.
  • Doubling a staffing agency fee discount increased the likelihood that employers considered hiring an ex-felon by 39 percent.
  • Employers were 53 percent more likely to consider hiring someone with a post-conviction certificate verifying their previous work performance.
  • Having consistent transportation provided by a staffing agency increased the likelihood of being considered for hire by 33 percent.
  • Employers' top-cited concern was "any violent felony conviction," chosen as most important issue by 53.3 percent of respondents.


  • What Policies Are Most Effective at Incentivizing Employers to Hire Ex-Offenders?

    Feb 14, 2018

    Ex-offenders are less likely to be hired than members of other disadvantaged groups, and former felons with poor economic outcomes are more likely to return to criminal activity. A survey of 100 employers examined how they responded to incentives to hire people with felony criminal records.

  • How to Incentivize Employers to Hire Ex-Offenders

    Jan 15, 2018

    People with criminal records are marginalized in the labor market. What policies might incentivize employers to hire them? Some options include tax credits and replacement guarantees if an ex-offender proves to be unsuitable once hired.

Next Steps

Given the labor market challenges faced by people with criminal convictions, it can be difficult for probation agencies to help their clients find a job, let alone earn a "living wage." In a forthcoming report, we provide an independent account of a program provided by a probation agency that is designed to improve the earning potential of individuals on probation in Sacramento County, California.