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Following decades of mass incarceration and overcriminalization, between 70 million and 100 million Americans, or 1 in 3, have some type of criminal record. Meanwhile, nearly half of all children in the United States now have at least one parent with a record. With nearly 9 in 10 employers and 4 in 5 landlords using background checks to screen applicants, the stigma of a criminal record can be a significant, long-lasting barrier to basic necessities such as employment and housing.
Heading into the coronavirus pandemic, formerly incarcerated people were already facing an unemployment rate of more than 27 percent—higher than any previous U.S. unemployment rate, including during the Great Depression. Formerly incarcerated people are also 10 times more likely than the general public to experience homelessness. People with criminal records and their families will likely see their already disproportionate levels of economic disadvantage multiplied by the coronavirus downturn. Unless policymakers act, they will also be among the people who fare the worst in the recovery as the economy begins to bounce back after the pandemic.
As lawmakers at every level of government take steps to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, leaders in states and cities across the United States are rightly focused on preventing the spread of the virus. As the government begins to think longer-term—with economists forecasting up to a 30 percent national unemployment rate and possibly even higher rates for already disadvantaged workers—it is critical that lawmakers enact policies to ensure that the tens of millions of people and families who already face significant economic vulnerability due to the stigma of a criminal record aren’t shut out from rebuilding their lives as the nation begins to recover.
Please join the Center for American Progress for an online event on the steps we need to take now at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure that people with criminal records and their families are not left behind in the nation’s COVID-19 response.
This event will be live captioned at americanprogress.org/livecaptioning
Rep. Jordan Harris, Minority Whip, Pennsylvania Assembly
Daryl Atkinson, co-director, Forward Justice
Sharon Dietrich, litigation director, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Arthur Rizer, director, criminal justice and civil liberties, R Street Institute
Quintin Williams, campaign manager, Heartland Alliance
Rebecca Vallas, senior fellow, Center for American Progress