November 2010, John Schmitt and Kris Warner
An updated version of this paper from June of 2016 can be found here.
We use Bureau of Justice Statistics data to estimate that, in 2008, the United States had between 12 and 14 million ex-offenders of working age. Because a prison record or felony conviction greatly lowers ex-offenders’ prospects in the labor market, we estimate that this large population lowered the total male employment rate that year by 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points. In GDP terms, these reductions in employment cost the U.S. economy between $57 and $65 billion in lost output.
Related paper: The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration