Out of work and out of prison: New study says Black women have it the hardest

Even after freedom, Black people are still paying the cost of prison, but solutions are possible.

Alice Marie Johnson thegrio.com
Alice Marie Johnson upon her release yesterday. (Courtesy of screengrab from CNN.com)


When Alice Marie Johnson made national news after her release from prison, a lot of people celebrated her freedom. While Johnson had the benefit of celebrity-backing from Kim Kardashian who prompted a commutation from President Trump, a new study shows Black women as a group, in fact have it the hardest getting jobs after prison.

In a first-of-its kind study from the Prison Policy Initiative, we finally see that the majority of formerly incarcerated working-age Black women (ages 35-44) have the highest levels of unemployment, at nearly 44 percent, compared to white men and women, and Black men.

Formerly incarcerated Black men follow right behind sisters at 35 percent unemployment.

And when formerly incarcerated Black women do find jobs, they are more likely than any other group to be part-time workers.

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The study also gives us a first look at the national unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people—27 percent—which according to the report is almost five times higher than the overall U.S. unemployment rate.

female prison inmates thegrio.com

NIANTIC, CT – MAY 24: Female prison inmates practice writing resumes in the job center of the York Community Reintegration Center on May 24, 2016 in Niantic, Connecticut.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

For many of us, this news isn’t surprising. We are fully aware that people who do time will face a harsher job market that won’t always allow for redemption or second chances. We also know that Black people face these situations with worse results, often finding those who get released right back in the system and behind bars. You would think everyone from taxpayers to politicians would be invested in breaking the cycles of poverty, unemployment and recidivism.

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Here are three ways policy experts and prison reform advocates want to start helping people avoid being out of work after being out of prison.

1. Clear people’s records for certain crimes.

If you have a criminal record, there’s proof that employers are less likely to call you back.  What if lesser offenses were expunged from people’s records permanently?

2. Change employment licensing rules, so people can have access to jobs.

Often times when people apply for a state license to get a job, they’ll face a criminal background check. Change this and people with felony convictions could be eligible for those jobs without working about rejection.

3. Give employers incentives for hiring people who were once incarcerated.

If an employer is willing to give a formerly incarcerated person an opportunity to work, there should be incentives in place such as tax benefits or insurance bonds, to encourage them to make these type of hires.

Whatever risks or fears they assume, could be eliminated when they know there’s financial benefits to providing a formerly incarcerated person an opportunity to change his/her life for the better.

Grio fam, what you do think?  What are some other solutions to offer people who struggle to get jobs after prison?  Hit us up in the comments below with your stories and thoughts.

Check out theGrio‘s “True Story” Episode on life for a man after President Obama commuted his prison sentence.