In the United States, one in three adults have been arrested at least once. This arrest statistic in U.S. is strikingly higher compared with many other countries.
A new study reported in Science Advances indicates that half of unemployed U.S. men in their mid-thirties have criminal convictions by age 35. These convictions make it harder to get employment.
These findings indicate that having a criminal record is pushing many able-bodied men to the sidelines of the job market.
Sarah Esther Lageson, a sociologist at Rutgers University in Newark, who was not involved in the study, stated, “I’m not sure that many people understand just how prevalent an arrest is.” She further says, “it really shows up [that unemployment] is actually a mass criminalization problem…. Because arrests are so common, they shouldn’t be considered in an employment context at all.“
This study on the effects of conviction and unemployment began when Amy Solomon, who heads the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, was leading efforts to assist former prisoners in the United States to re-enter society and the workforce. Solomon was aware that previous research indicated that having a criminal record makes it difficult sometimes impossible to get a job . She knew employers hesitated to hire applicants with criminal history for the fear they will reoffend or for risks of future negligence suits for hiring criminals. Solomon, however, wanted to know just how many of the unemployed had criminal histories.
Solomon sought assistance from Shawn Bushway, who is an economist and criminologist at RAND Corporation and who had a history of finding answers to hard questions about statistics in the criminal justice system.
Shawn Bushway indicated that no one had ever asked what Solomon questioned: how many of the unemployed had criminal records?
Bushway utilized the U.S. Department of Labor stats starting from 1997. Statisticians at the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and for more than 2 decades they had periodically interviewed 8984 people born between 1980 and 1984. These statisticians asked the interviewees about education, income, employment status and criminal history.
Women tend to get arrested less than men. Because of this fact, Bushway and his team focused on unemployed men. The results from the men who had reached age 35 who responded to the survey indicated that 5.8% were unemployed. The researchers defined being unemployed as being without a job for at least 4 consecutive weeks but less than 39 weeks. Of these participants, 64% had been arrested at least once and more than 46% of these men had a criminal conviction.
In response to these numbers, one researcher stated “it’s pretty staggering. I would not have guessed that such a high number of people who are unemployed have a criminal background ….. it’s really eye-opening.”
Of course, the researchers wanted to know if unemployment and criminal records disproportionately impacted people of color. Among the survey participants, Black men and Hispanic men were 1.4 times more likely to be arrested than white men. Black and Hispanic men were 1.8 and 1.2 times, respectively, more likely to be unemployed.
But one interesting demographical data point surprised researchers. “Although more Black and Hispanic survey participants were unemployed and had a criminal record than their white counterparts, the proportion of the unemployed Black men with criminal records was similar to that of unemployed white men with criminal records.” Specifically, of the unemployed, 67% of Black men, 58% of Hispanic men, and 65% of White men had been arrested by age 35.
Lila Kazemian, a sociologist at City University of New York says these numbers are “surprising,” Kazemian further adds, “this is somewhat unexpected, given that Black men experience unemployment and contacts with the criminal justice system at a higher rate than their non-Black counterparts.”
The authors of this study find that although racism influences hiring, “discrimination based on criminal history may be even more potent.”
Bushway indicates that “people [with criminal histories] are being segregated into certain jobs and in certain industries, and are unable to advance their careers…many, many years after they have a record.”
Western European countries like France do not make criminal records public and employers cannot use criminal records to make hiring decisions. U.S. employers, however, discriminate against applicants even if they are found to have one arrest.
Lageson suggest that “we should rethink public access to these types of low-level records given that they’re impacting a large proportion of unemployed people.”
But low-level criminal convictions have been having a dire impact on black males and their ability to get employed and have the American Dream. Michelle Alexander’s seminal book The New Jim Crow discusses the impact of not just criminal convictions, but mass incarceration on the black community and how mass incarceration have unfairly and unjustly impacted the black community. Michelle Alexander writes, “as a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
But now researchers are sounding an alarm about the harmful effects of utilizing criminal convictions or arrests in hiring decisions now that the statistics are showing a significant impact on white males, at least those in their mid-thirties.
Researchers now suggest making these criminal records non-public and not allowing employers to consider these criminal records in making hiring decision now given that it is having greater impact on White males’ ability to get employed.
It amazes me how the tune of American ideologies, punishment, and policies change when unfair rules that have been negatively impacting black and other communities starts to negatively impact the white community more. From tough on crime and unfair sentencing for black people addicted to crack to multi-million dollar big pharmaceutical lawsuits and plush rehab facilities for white people addicted to opioids. From crack-criminal label to opioid-addict label — the difference the community impacted makes on the label, the mercy, and the perspective. America, let’s do better by all people.
Maybe now we can stop unfairly isolating people and discriminating against people for crimes they have served their time for no matter what color you are labeled in America.
I am just glad researchers are now asking employers to “rethink” using criminal histories in hiring decisions.
It’s so funny how art mimics reality. In trying to find clip art for this blog, I did a search for “criminal convictions” in my photo copyright system I use. All of the clip art pictures I found all had black men behind bars or in jail. Interesting!
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La Shon Y. Fleming Bruce a/k/a SHONSPEAKS is a blogger, speaker, and lead creator of freeyourthinkingmind.com. I am also a lawyer and managing member of The Fleming-Bruce Law Firm, P.L.L.C. If you want to check out more of my writings that may not be released on this site, go over to my website at freeyourthinkingmind.com
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