An article by Washington Post reporter Jeff Guo says mass incarceration affects the unemployment rate and actually makes the numbers look better than they are. Guo said that if you factor in the number of Black men who are behind bars, Black unemployment would be much worse.
According to government data, there are currently about twice as many Black unemployed men as white men, and that figure has stayed stubbornly the same since 1954. The unemployment rate for Black men is 8.8 percent. The unemployment rate for white men is 4.5 percent.
Wonkblog says current unemployment figures don’t factor in the 590,000 white men who are incarcerated. If you include those numbers among the unemployed, the figure inches to between 5 to 6.4 percent. However, if you apply the 580,000 Black men who are behind bars to the Black unemployment rate, the figure goes up to a shocking 19 percent.
Mass incarceration has created several other social problems. Once Black men get out of jail, they find it nearly impossible to find work and often fall back into a life of crime. The large amount of Black men missing from the community affects marriage options for Black women and also affects Black children, who often grow up without a father figure. Also, in many states felons are permanently barred from voting, so ex-convicts can’t even participate in the political process to try and change some of these unfair laws.
“Jim Crow and slavery were caste systems. So is our current system of mass incarceration,” said Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow.
The figures on mass incarceration of Black people are pretty depressing:
- According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 3 Black men will be jailed in their life.
- Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men.
- Census figures showed there are more Black high school dropouts in jail than employed.
- One in 13 Black people can’t vote because of their criminal record.
- The Washington Post also reported than 1 in nine Black children have a parent behind bars.
Sociologist Bruce Western, author of Punishment and Inequality in America, said mass incarceration keeps Black people mired in poverty.
“From my point of view,” Western told The Post, “mass incarceration is so deeply connected to American poverty and economic inequality.”
However, it seems attitudes about mass incarceration are slowly beginning to change. Former President Bill Clinton has apologized for the consequences of his 1990s crime bill, which sent thousands of Black men to jail. This has come back to haunt the presidential campaign of his wife, Hillary Clinton.
Even Republicans are beginning to question the social and economic costs of keeping thousands of Black men behind bars, instead of having them participate in the economy.
“Federal offenders often emerge from prison with few skills or behavior changes that would aid in a successful reintegration into the community. Root causes of why offenders broke the law — poverty, addiction and mental health issues — too often go unaddressed,” said J.C. Watts, a Black Republican and former Oklahoma representative in a Tulsa World editorial. “A long list of conservatives, including the Koch brothers, tax-opponent Grover Norquist and former U.S. House leader Newt Gingrich, have led the charge to bring more rationality to sentencing and corrections spending. The feds ought to look at what’s being done in states that safely reduced their prison populations.”