Every year, roughly 600,000 felons and other convicts are released back into society from US prison systems having completed lengthy sentences for their crimes. Unfortunately, the recidivism rates for these men and women are extremely high; roughly half are re-incarcerated within 3 years of release, and the rate is even higher among young adult males. It's no secret that employment is the key to leading a comfortable life, but what traps these men and women is that employment opportunities available to them are very bleak, usually limited to manual labor jobs such as construction, home improvement, and warehousing. It is the warehousing industry in particular that interests me in this case, as the pay and conditions are notoriously poor. What is a man with a family supposed to do when his average hourly wage is only $9.00? Unfortunately, the answer for many is to return to crime. This low-wage lifestyle of warehouse ex-offenders is one that is ultimately a dead end. Their prospects for improving their lives are very bleak, yet society tells them that hard work will pay off. They are caught in jobs that cause chronic pain with little reward and this trickles down into every aspect of their life; housing, relationships, and eventually their attitude on life. And the rest of society can't even begin to understand it. They offer very little help or solutions to these problems, which is only hurting society as a whole.
Needless to say, warehouse ex-offenders are not a varied group; most often, those who were incarcerated for misdemeanor charges do not face the same stigmas as those with felonies and therefore still have much broader work prospects when released from jail. Those warehouse workers released from prison, however, are usually stuck in this low-wage profession because their rap sheet already eliminates many jobs from their list of options. For instance, anyone with a felony may not hold positions where there is interaction with children, nor can they perform jobs with much customer contact. Also restricted are jobs where the employee must handle significant amounts of money or expensive merchandise. So if you group all released felons into a type of job where there is: a) little to no customer interaction, b) no interaction with minors, c) no access to large amounts of cash or expensive goods, you are putting them into low-wage manual labor jobs away from the retail sector. Count out many jobs that require more skill such as construction, and suddenly warehouse positions become among the best options.
Before any employer hires someone with a rap sheet, they often conduct background checks which are usually the main barrier to employment that ex-offenders face. Particularly heinous crimes usually eliminate all job opportunities, but still there is a definite type of criminal that often is hired by the warehousing industry. Most ex-cons in the industry were incarcerated for drug offenses, both selling and using, as well as property charges, such as destruction of property. Also a small percentage of workers have past offenses of violence, but it is obvious that these offenders are not as lucky when it comes to obtaining jobs, even in the warehouse industry.
Not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges facing ex-offenders that work in warehouses is their small paycheck. The average temp floor worker of most warehouses earns about $9.00 per hour worked (direct hires average %12.48), which hovers at or near the minimum wage in most states and cities. Because of this, is it any surprise that most of these workers have to make do with shabby housing, transportation, and food? Making ends meet gets even harder considering that many ex-cons have health issues, leftover fines, and one or more dependents in their household. Because of this, an estimated 37% of all warehouse workers need to work a second job to provide a decent lifestyle for their families, regardless of whether or not they are ex-offenders, meaning that those who are have it even more difficult, as finding one job is hard enough, let alone finding a second that allows more flexible hours.
Like many businesses, warehouses are still somewhat cautious about their ex-offender employees, leading them to often avoid hiring them as direct hires, and instead more and more are turning to temp agencies to provide them with labor. These agencies happen to be the same places that many ex-cons turn to for help finding employment once released, leading to the high number of ex-offenders being placed in warehousing jobs across the nation. However, coming as a temp worker means a few things are different than the direct hires. First and most obvious is the difference in wages, but other conditions are also different. For instance, temps are almost basically expendable, often hired by certain warehouses only for a season or two before being let go and bouncing around to another warehouse.Temporary workers also do not receive worker's compensation for injuries or have the ability to form a union. What's more, these workers do not obtain any seniority positions, meaning they can't really move up in the workplace. Another harmful aspect of being a temporary worker is that these people are constantly reassigned to various warehouses, making it a constantly changing work environment with new equipment, procedures, and coworkers. This makes it very difficult to become comfortable with the surroundings and people that they work with, leading to a very pessimistic attitude on the part of temporary ex-offenders in this industry.
One difficulty faced by ex-offenders in warehousing is their poor housing prospects. This is due in part to their history as well as their low wages, which create barriers towards getting a nice place in a safe location, especially one where temptations are not as common. If they're lucky, they are able to find a place far from their old neighborhoods, but for most, joining a middle-class housing complex is rare. Usually they end up only able to afford a disadvantaged neighborhood, where several problems pile up as a result. First, these neighborhoods can often mean unsafe and tempting environments for any children that ex-offenders may need to take care off. Also, they can present a barrier towards forming solid friendships and relationships with neighbors and potential friends because the neighborhood is not as open and friendly. Lastly, they continue to present temptations for crime that some simply can't resist because of their fragile mental situation; they have bleak employment opportunities, live a rough lifestyle, and often have multiple other barriers such as past injuries or fines to pay off.
Many ex-offenders who are newly released need to work immediately in order to provide for their families and cover housing and other dues. However, jumping right into the work force - especially a hard manual labor job such as warehousing - are compounding problems that will continue to cost them in the future both in terms of money and discomfort. The problem is that many warehouse workers lack the sufficient insurance to treat their injuries and illnesses, further debilitating them each day they work in the poor warehouse conditions. And especially as a temporary hire without workers' compensation, there is almost no chance to get back to 100%. Because of their low pay, most ex-offenders are unable to immediately provide themselves with medical attention for the slew of common illnesses and injuries that they carry with them in their return to society. In addition, many also face drug addictions that need attention yet never receive treatment, which is a high indicator of recidivism and return to crime. According to one study even, 15 percent of people studied claimed to have debilitating health problems, while another 15 percent could not even work because of permanent disability. Another 6 percent had to attend treatment problems when released. Another study from 1997 put up even higher numbers, with 31% of respondents claiming physical or mental impairment and 25% claimed to be alcohol dependent.
Low wages make life difficult for everyone involved, but the stress is increased exponentially with each dependent that a working member of the family has to support, especially if the man or woman has to make do with low warehouse wages. According to one study, about 5 percent of those interviewed did not even work because of having to care for family members, and 56% asked had children under 18. Those that go to work each day and leave their dependent family at home face immense stress. Most are unable to provide quality housing in a safe neighborhood and worry that their children will fall to the same temptations to crime that they did. In addition, the poor neighborhoods that these families must live in do not provide the children with good educational opportunities, as the best school districts are in the higher-income neighborhoods. Other ex-offenders have to continue to provide for sick or elderly parents, grandparents, or other family members, which cause further strain on the low income. More worrisome is the inability for these ex-offenders to provide health assistance for themselves, much less their family members.
Ex-offenders working in the warehousing industry face an uphill battle when it comes to staying clean and avoiding becoming just another recidivism statistic. Unfortunately, for many this battle is too much, and the combination of low wages, poor housing, and chronic pain cause many to look toward illegal means for either additional income or for stress relief. The problem with the whole situation is that the environments they find themselves in are ones where these outlets are very readily accessible. Because of the high rate of ex-cons and future cons in the workplace, those returning to society are constantly plagued by temptation to make a little extra money on the side or unwind with some drugs after a long difficult week. The statistics do not lie about the difficulties that ex-cons face staying on the straight and narrow: one study reports about a 50% re-incarceration rate within 3 years of release from prison, while about 66% are at least re-arrested during the same time period. What's more, the rates are higher for 20-40 year-old men, whose tendency to be re-arrested does not seem to drop off until they are over the age of 40. Clearly, the solution to this problem has to be found in the rehabilitation programs. Drug rehab is a key, as some experts estimate that about 50% of crimes are drug related or indirectly motivated by drugs. Another key is the employment programs, many of which do not offer education, but simply place ex-offenders in the nearest warehouse that will take them on as a temp worker, where the low-wage life traps them.
When ex-offenders return to society, they don't often get a clean fresh start. Many need to begin working immediately to pay off debts, old tickets, and court and lawyer fees, all of which drain their low warehouse wages. Some can't even obtain their own transportation because outstanding fines and tickets have resulted in a suspended license. In that case, their job opportunities are even more limited to the extent of public transportation.
Most - if not all - ex-offenders in the warehousing industry hold low-wage entry-level positions, especially if they are temporary hires. Often, these workers are seen as being completely expendable, not equal, and only used until no longer needed. This attitude taken on by many employers and fellow employees means that the margin for error for these kind of worker is almost nothing. There are hundreds waiting to take any position that opens up, so employers are not shy at all about firing these men and women. Because of their past, many ex-offenders come to work each day with something weighing on their mind; it could be their remaining dues, their poor families, or their lingering health issues. In some instances, follow-up legal hearings drag the worker from their job repeatedly, leading to spotty work attendance. Other times, they are re-arrested for minor infractions that were too tempting to pass up. Sometimes, the employee is fired for any minor confrontation at work, because they may have a history of violence. Ex-offender employees may also struggle adjusting to their new responsibilities at work, as well as simple things such as being on time for things. Dealing with these things daily causes numerous slip-ups on their part, which are not looked upon lightly, but rather solved simply by terminating them. There is a lower tolerance for these kinds of workers because of their reputation, their history, and simply their label as temporary workers.