Our biggest fear for the economy is that we essentially run out of labor. To gauge the importance, look at the numbers: over 2 million incarcerated, 4.8 million currently on parole or probation, 19 million with a felony conviction on their record, 70 million with some kind of past interaction with the law. Put those numbers against the reality that, above and beyond natural demographic growth and immigration, to sustain our expansion we need an additional 1.25 million workers each year, you have to recognize that the number of people who are likely out of the workforce, unemployed or underemployed because of this taint is enormous and economically consequential.
We are wasting enormous resources, either through the opportunity loss of full labor market participation or through direct costs like the $80 billion spent each year on incarceration. A job alone may not be sufficient to reduce recidivism, but it is necessary for most ex-offenders. Current estimates for long-term recidivism rates run from approximately 60 percent to over 75 percent, so we have been failing in this regard both on an economic and a societal basis.