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Understanding Policies that Impact Employment Opportunities for People Who Have Criminal Records

For people who have criminal records, there are many policy-driven roadblocks to employment that occur before their job applications are even considered. The Reentry and Employment Project can help policymakers from all levels of government understand how policies can create prolonged obstacles to employment—from obtaining documentation to passing background checks—and how people who have criminal records can join the workforce without compromising public safety.

A Look at the Numbers

  • The existence of a criminal record is more detrimental to employment prospects for black applicants than for white applicants. Black applicants without a criminal record are called back at lower rates (14 percent) than white applicants with a criminal record (17 percent).
  • People with criminal records struggle to find and keep a job for a variety of reasons, including:
    • Minimal work experience and limited or diminished job skills and education for those that were incarcerated (41 percent of adults that are incarcerated do not have a high school diploma or equivalency, compared to 18 percent of the general adult population)
    • Employer reluctance to hire people with criminal records (87 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks for some or all job applicants. The existence of a criminal record reduces job callbacks by 50 percent on average.)
    • More than 20,000 job-related statutes and regulations (People who are trained or are seeking employment in certain fields are prohibited from attaining mandatory occupational licenses due to their criminal records.)
  • These barriers have a significant impact on the overall economy. The economy loses approximately $78 billion to $87 billion annually in GDP when people with criminal records are unemployed or underemployed.

Opportunities for Policy Change

Policymakers have adopted a menu of reforms designed to improve employment and public safety outcomes.
Click on a topic below to learn more.

Related Tools and Resources

Select a topic area below to learn more about the legal and policy barriers related to reentry and employment.