The US Robbed Itself of $87 Billion in 2014 By Not Hiring Formerly Incarcerated People

Dorsey Nunn shed tears of joy in his California office when President Barack Obama instructed federal employers to delay asking applicants about their criminal records in November. He shared that moment with other Americans who, like him, left a U.S. prison to find that bad policies made it easy for employers to discriminate against them because of their previous convictions.

Nunn is co-founder of All of Us or None, the reentry group that coined the phrase "ban the box," which refers to the question on an application that asks, "Have you ever been convicted by a court?" 

Read more: President Obama to Announce Executive Order Against Criminal Background Checks

"We're making progress," Nunn said in a phone interview from San Francisco. "But we're still only taking incremental steps, rather than seeing it as an entire community [of formerly incarcerated people] demanding their rights."

The country's mammoth criminal justice system disproportionately harms black people and is a drag on the economy, according to new analysis of the latest federal justice and labor statistics.

In 2014, prison-related policies also cost the U.S. economy as much as $87 billion in gross domestic product — the value of all goods produced and service provided by a nation in a given year — according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Authors of the center's report, released Thursday, reviewed Bureau of Justice Statistics data from 2014, when there were as many as 15.8 million people convicted of felonies who were of working age. Nearly 7 million of them were formerly incarcerated.

Policies allowing employers to unfairly weed out applicants who answer "yes" to the incarceration question amounted to a loss of about 1.9 million potentially qualified workers, according to the CEPR report. It reduced the overall employment rate by an entire percentage point. 

When it comes to race, the breakdown is even more grim. The CEPR report said black men who are formerly incarcerated suffered a 4.7 to 5.4 percentage point reduction in their employment rate in 2014. Latino men saw a reduction of as much as 1.6 percentage points, while the drop was up to 1.3 percentage points for white men. The jobless rate was as high as 6.7% in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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