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Normalizing Opportunity: A Policy Agenda to Promote Economic Advancement for People With Criminal Records

April 25, 2023

At a Glance

JFF calls on policymakers to break down barriers to economic opportunity—and establish policies that create equitable economic advancement—for the 70 million people in the United States with criminal records. Our actionable recommendations will expand the talent pool available to fill critical workforce gaps and build a more equitable and just society.

Lucretia Murphy  Vice President 
Brandi Mandato    Senior Director 
Aminah Elster
Practices & Centers

The U.S. economy has a talent pipeline problem. Employers in several industries are struggling to fill job vacancies, and the gap between the demand for labor and the supply of talent is likely to grow. In the next decade, the labor supply is projected to shrink while recent federal investments are expected to spur the private-sector creation of about 10 million new jobs.

But our nation can ease critical workforce shortages, starting immediately—if we choose to give people with records of arrest, conviction, or incarceration a fair chance to work in a quality job. At Jobs for the Future (JFF), we believe it’s time to tap the full potential, skills, and aspirations of the more than 70 million people with records living in the United States—about one in every three adults. We call on policymakers to overhaul the complex web of rules and regulations that penalize people with records and exclude them from pursuing jobs they are qualified for or can learn to do. We also urge policymakers to invest in proven models to help people with records advance economically and foster alignment across systems to sustain these goals. Without bold policy action, the employment and economic prospects for people with records will remain bleak, and they’ll be particularly limited for many Black and Latinx people, who are disproportionately arrested and convicted as a result of racism in the legal system and must also contend with the racial discrimination that remains constant in the labor market.

JFF’s Center for Justice & Economic Advancement has crafted a policy agenda that provides federal, state, and local leaders with specific strategies to break down systemic barriers to the equitable economic advancement of all people with records, with an intentional focus on Black and Latinx communities. Designed as a road map for efforts to “normalize opportunity” for people with records, it identifies policy solutions within and across the U.S. education, workforce, financial, and housing systems, as well as the legal, judicial, and correctional systems.