Labor Market Conditions and Crime

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Early research did not find strong ties between labor market conditions and recidivism, despite the potential trade-off between employment and illegal activity. Recent papers have shown a closer relationship, using more disaggregated measures of local labor market conditions, rather than the aggregate measures used by earlier papers.

Local Economic Conditions

  • Schnepel (2018) [1] uses records from prisoners released in California between 1993 and 2008 to show that recidivism is lower when there are more opportunities in manufacturing and construction jobs, relatively high-paying industries where prisoners can find employment, but recidivism does not change with an increase in the supply of jobs in lower-paying industries.
  • Yang (2017) [2] shows that local labor markets affect recidivism using a large sample of prisoners from the National Corrections Reporting Program. Being released to a county with higher low-skilled wages decreases the risk of recidivism, especially for black released prisoners and first-time offenders.
  • Street (2020) [3] uses variation in economic opportunity from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in North Dakota to examine the effect of this opportunity on North Dakota residents who were already living there pre-fracking (to abstract from the additional potential criminal behavior of in-migrants). She finds a 22% decrease in crime committed by these continuing residents, though this effect fades over time.

Post-Incarceration Employment

  • Cullen, Dobbie, and Hoffman (2022)[5] in a field experiment with a job platform find that demand for workers with a criminal record is low, at 39% of employers at baseline, but increases to over 50% with an offer of relatively inexpensive interventions, such as crime and safety insurance, a single performance review, or limited background check.
  • Finlay and Mueller-Smith (2021)[6] find that justice-involved individuals experience greater earnings and employment losses during recessions as people from the general ACS population with similar characteristics, but experience recovery during expansions, especially in areas with growth in construction and other services.
  • Darolia, Mueser, and Cronin (2021)[7] find that earning a GED in prison increases earnings and employment in the first two quarters after release, with bigger effects for those that did not have a job prior to incarceration.
  • Looney and Turner (2018) [8] use tax records to examine the employment of the incarcerated population before and after an observed period of incarceration. They find that only only 49% of the prime-age men they examine are employed prior to incarceration and only 55% after. In both periods median wages even for the employed are low.
  • Lundquist, Pager, and Strader (2018) [9] find those with a felony record who enlist with the U.S. Military have similar rates of attrition and discharge for negative reasons as those without a criminal record, and are promoted more quickly and to higher ranks than other enlistees.



  1. Schnepel, Kevin T. "Good Jobs and Recidivism." The Economic Journal 128, no. 608 (2018): 447-469. Link
  2. Yang, Crystal S. "Local labor markets and criminal recidivism." Journal of Public Economics 147 (2017): 16-29. Link
  3. Street, Brittany. "The Impact of Economic Opportunity on Criminal Behavior: Evidence from the Fracking Boom." Working Paper (2018).Link
  4. Finlay, K., Mueller-Smith, M. and Street, B., 2022. Criminal Justice Involvement, Self-employment, and Barriers in Recent Public Policy Link.
  5. Cullen, Zoe B., Will S. Dobbie, and Mitchell Hoffman. Increasing the Demand for Workers with a Criminal Record. No. w29947. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2022. Link
  6. Finlay, Keith, and Michael Mueller-Smith. "Justice-Involved Individuals in the Labor Market since the Great Recession." The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 695, no. 1 (2021): 107-122. Link
  7. Darolia, Rajeev, Peter Mueser, and Jacob Cronin. "Labor market returns to a prison GED." Economics of Education Review 82 (2021): 102093.Link
  8. Looney, Adam, and Nicholas Turner. "Work and Opportunity Before and After Incarceration." Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Accessed October 5 (2018): 2018. Link
  9. Lundquist, J.H., Pager, D. and Strader, E., 2018. Does a criminal past predict worker performance? Evidence from one of America’s largest employers. Social Forces, 96(3), pp.1039-1068. Link