Focus

Desperate times, desperate measures?

The construction industry, indeed the entire U.S., is struggling to fill jobs as the unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent in April—the lowest it's been since the Great Recession. (The federal government considers full U.S. employment to be 4.7 percent.)

Yes, employing immigrant labor is one option though hiring foreign workers places multiple paperwork burdens on employers plus other hurdles to clear, such as language barriers. Instead, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more employers are actively recruiting and hiring those with criminal records.

In fact, according to Bloomberg BNA, a medium security prison in Sheridan, Ill., has been training inmates in carpentry and plumbing skills. And the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and the Council of State Governments Justice Center jointly agreed to help chamber members hire ex-offenders.

The numbers are astounding. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, there are between 14 million and 15.8 million working-age people with felony convictions and 70 million with an arrest or conviction record. And Evanston, Ill.-based Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management reports 650,000 prisoners are set free annually in the U.S.

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