Brennan Center For Justice
Mass Incarceration Has Been a Driving Force of Economic Inequality
The wealth gap has disproportionately affected Black communities for decades. Covid-19 and our criminal justice system has only made it grow.
November 4, 2020
As people struggle with the economic fallout of Covid-19, there’s a growing sense that the economy wasn’t working well for many even before the lockdowns. In late 2019, in the middle of a theoretically strong economy, income inequality hit a record high, and a cavernous wealth gap continues to separate too many white and Black families.
Those inequalities are seen, more than anywhere else, in the criminal justice system — and more specifically in what the system does to families.
We know that people who have been convicted of a crime or imprisoned are more likely to face poverty and other serious challenges. But our Brennan Center report calculates in dollars how criminal convictions set people up for a lifetime of diminished earnings, helping perpetuate poverty while fueling racial, health and economic inequality.
Given the sheer number of people impacted by the criminal justice system, this is not a problem we can afford to ignore — especially during a recession. Any agenda for recovery at the federal, state and local levels must also seek to reduce the economic impact of mass incarceration.
Involvement in the criminal justice system — specifically time in prison or conviction of a crime — casts a shadow over someone’s life, limiting their ability to earn a living wage in the short and long term. The effect of prison is especially pronounced: a 52% reduction in annual earnings and little earnings growth for the rest of their lives, amounting to a loss of $500,000 over several decades
Even conviction of a misdemeanor — a minor crime, such as shoplifting — can reduce earnings by 16% annually. Many people swept up in the criminal justice system already live on the edge of poverty. The reduced earning potential of a conviction can mean the difference between economic stability and inescapable poverty.
The criminal justice system affects more people, more deeply, than previously thought. More than 70 million Americans have a criminal record. Of them, nearly 8 million have been to prison. The Brennan Center study, however, is the first to calculate how many have been convicted of a misdemeanor — at least 45 million, roughly 14% of the U.S. population.
Due to lower earnings, the total amount of money lost each year by people who have a criminal conviction or who have spent time in prison is at least $370 billion. These lost earnings could be spent on pursuing educational opportunities or buying a first home, which for many families have helped break the cycle of poverty.
These severe consequences are inextricably bound up with the nation’s 400-year history of racial injustice. Black and Latino men and women make up more than half of all Americans who have been to prison. This disparity likely stems from decades of discriminatory policies and overpolicing of communities of color.
And while all people who have been to prison face severely reduced earnings, Black and Latino Americans are less likely than whites of the same socioeconomic group to see their earnings recover, suggesting that imprisonment traps them in low-wage jobs. White men and women who have been to prison miss out on about $270,000 over their lifetimes compared with socioeconomically similar white people who have not spent time in prison. For formerly incarcerated Black and Latino people, it’s nearly $360,000 and more than $510,000, respectively, when compared with socioeconomically similar Black and Latino people who have not been to prison.
From Dayson Pasión:
Alamance Burlington Equity Advisory Council
I told you I’m not waiting to get elected to do the work of creating a more equitable public education system for our students and families. Something that I talked about and proposed during the campaign is the formation of an equity advisory council that is community-led and would make recommendations to district leadership. So let’s get to work. It’s going to take all of us.
Use this link to sign up for more information: https://forms.gle/ufWJTj1xuXu5sdg96
Change is Coming to Alamance.
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