CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois unemployment rate is up again; it now stands at 10.1 percent. But there’s one group facing a jobless rate five times worse: ex-convicts.

Most former convicts want badly to work, but most employers are not interested in hiring them.

As CBS 2’s Mike Parker reports, there are people who want to help ex-offenders get jobs.

Steven Ray has been out of work since March, when he was released from prison. He’d finished three years for aggravated battery with a firearm.

“It’s very rough, once you get that ‘X’ on your back,” he said. “Most (employers) say that they’re not looking for anyone with a felony background.”

This year, some 35,000 Illinois convicts will finish their sentences. Most will return to Chicago, where the unemployment rate among ex-offenders is – not surprisingly – very high.

Steven McCullough, chief operating officer of Safer Foundation, an outreach group for former felons, said, “It’s astronomical. It has to exceed – it definitely exceeds 50 percent.”

Safer Foundation helps teach ex-offenders job discipline and helps them obtain GEDs and learn fundamentals, like filling out a job application. They also try to link up job seekers with willing employers.

Will Hall got that help and got a job, even after doing hard time for cocaine possession. He was hired by the Five Guys burger chain and has risen to running his own restaurant. Now he is hiring ex-offenders himself through Safer.

“It’s nice to know that, at the end of the day, you’re giving somebody a second hope. And, you know, Hopefully it’s keeping the guys from going back,” Hall said.

McCullough said, “We look at employment of people with criminal records as public safety as well as growing the economy. The more people working – the safer our neighborhoods are.”

“I have hope. I think something’s going to happen,” Ray said. “I’m not going to give up, either; not at all.”

The folks at Safer Foundation want people to ponder this question: who would you rather have next door, a former inmate or a former inmate with a job?

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