An article at Colorlines, and the accompanying video interview below, illustrates the way that employment policy virtually ensures that some people will remain excluded from the above-ground economy.  Fourteen months ago, the interviewee, Vincent, lost his job as a maintenance technician, just days before he would be eligible for unemployment, when his boss ran a criminal background check and discovered that Vincent had a 25-year-old record for breaking and entering.

Since then, he’s been unemployed.  When he applies for jobs, he’s frequently told that his application can’t be accepted because of  his criminal background. Accordingly, he is having a terribly difficult time finding a job.  “It’s real hurtful,” he says, “to know that your chances are so broke down to zero.”

Seventy-five percent of people who have left prison are currently unemployed.  When we see criminal recidivism, or the return to crime after release from prison, we should consider the possibility that we are essentially forcing people to turn to the “underground economy” by shutting them out of the “above ground” one.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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