NELP’s conservative estimates indicate that roughly 70 million people in the United States have some sort of a criminal record[1] and nearly 700,000 people return to our communities from incarceration every year. Numerous research studies find that people require a combination of family support, community assistance, and economic opportunity to stay out of the criminal justice system.  Having access to employment opportunities is a critical component of this web of support.  A steady job provides not just financial resources, but also connections to society.

Unfortunately, finding a job is all too difficult for many people with records. Men with criminal records accounted for about 34 percent of the unemployed prime working age men surveyed in a 2015 New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. And the Great Recession made it even worse; for example, in one state, researchers found that before the Recession 40 percent of the formerly incarcerated were employed, but in 2008 the proportion had dropped to 10 percent.

While having a job—especially a low-wage job—is not a guarantee that a formerly incarcerated person will remain out of the criminal justice system, unemployment strains critical family supports and provides financial incentives to engage in illegal behaviors.  Thus, removing a barrier that cuts off employment opportunities before the hiring process even begins, is critical to designing a robust policy platform to help millions of Americans with records.

This publication provides examples of studies that offer research and data that support the proposition that removing unjust barriers to employment is good for individuals, families, and communities, increases public safety, and contributes to a robust economy.

[1] In 2012, there were an estimated 100,596,300 subjects (“individual offenders”) in the state criminal history files within the fifty states, American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2012 (Jan. 2014) at p.2 (  To account for duplication (individuals who may have criminal records in more than one state), NELP conservatively reduced the numbers cited in the survey by 30% to 70,417,410 subjects. The U.S. Census 2012 population estimate for those that are 18 years and over was 240,185,952. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States and States: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012, U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division (June 2013). (  Using these estimates, there are 70 million U.S. adults or almost one in three U.S. adults (29%) with a criminal history in the U.S. state criminal history files.


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