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One Strike and You're Out: How We can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records

"Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty. It is a cause because having a criminal record can present obstacles to employment, housing, public assistance, education, family reunification, and more; convictions can result in monetary debts as well. It is a consequence due to the growing criminalization of poverty and homelessness. One recent study finds that our nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society. Failure to address this link as part of a larger anti-poverty agenda risks missing a major piece of the puzzle. It is important to note that communities of color-and particularly men of color-are disproportionately affected, and high-poverty, disadvantaged communities generate a disproportionate share of Americans behind bars ... Indeed, research shows that mass incarceration and its effects have been significant drivers of racial inequality in the United States, particularly during the past three to four decades. Moreover, the challenges associated with having a criminal record come at great cost to the U.S. economy. Estimates put the cost of employment losses among people with criminal records at as much as $65 billion per year in terms of gross domestic product. That’s in addition to our nation’s skyrocketing expenditures for mass incarceration, which today total more than $80 billion annually" (p. 1-2). This report explains how all levels of government (local, state, and federal), employers, and academic institutions can work to ensure that criminal records do not lead to structural racism and poverty. This report includes the following sections: introduction and summary; background; barriers to employment; barriers to housing; barriers to public assistance; barriers to education and training; barriers to economic security and financial empowerment; and conclusion.