An estimated 70 million people in the United States have a serious misdemeanor or felony arrest or conviction record that could impact their ability to find a job. 1 Additionally, each year about 630,000 people, on average, are released from state and federal prisons across the country after completing their sentence,2 and at the end of 2014 about 4.7 million people were on parole or probation under community supervision.3 All must find a way to make ends meet.

 

It’s hard enough for those who have not been incarcerated to find a good paying job. For people with conviction records, finding a good job can be impossible. At $16.87, the national weighted average living wage is significantly higher than any minimum wage in the country.4 Even in the states with a lower living wage, minimum wage is not enough to allow a single adult to make ends meet.

As noted in earlier reports in the Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series, there are not enough good jobs to go around. This leaves seven job seekers for every one job that pays at least $15 per hour.5 In some states, there are even more job seekers for each job opening that pays a living wage in that state.

Those people with a conviction records, though, have further barriers to employment. Though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared that blanket bans on hiring people with a criminal record are a civil rights act violation,6 every state in the country has regulations restricting employment opportunities for those with a conviction record. On average, states have 123 mandatory restrictions for those with felony records,in addition to discretionary restrictions and restrictions for non-felony records. Several states have more than two hundred restrictions on the books, and Louisiana has almost 400 restrictions.

Additionally, in many states restrictions bar employment in occupations and industries that provide good paying jobs, like health care, law enforcement and security, and legal services. Without the ability to gain employment in better paying jobs such as those in these occupation categories, those with a felony conviction have even less chance of making ends meet.

A conviction record can also restrict other areas of life that impact one’s ability to get by. When a person with a conviction record who cannot attain employment is unable to qualify for affordable housing or food stamps, making ends meet becomes impossible.

There is a growing awareness that burdensome restrictions make it nearly impossible to rebuild a life and make ends meet after release. The Commonwealth Court in Pennsylvania, for example, found that a lifetime ban against working in facilities such as nursing homes and home health care agencies was unconstitutional.7 Reviewing and removing such mandatory employment bans, putting policies like Ban the Box in place to prevent hiring discrimination, and ensuring that people with conviction records have access to important safety net programs are just some of the tools that can help give people with conviction records a fair shot at making ends meet.

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