Policy Changes Needed to Unlock Employment and Entrepreneurial Opportunity for 100 Million Americans with Criminal Records, Kauffman Research Shows

Men of color disproportionately affected by barriers

Rethinking occupational licensing policy could counter recidivism,
encourage entrepreneurship and boost the American economy

KANSAS CITY, Mo.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–For the 30 percent of U.S. adults with criminal records,
attaining economic success after leaving prison relies on the ability to
find good jobs, says a new paper released today by the Ewing Marion
Kauffman Foundation. Even those with minor offenses and those who have
been arrested but not charged can encounter numerous barriers in their
search for employment. Significant among the obstacles are occupational
licensing requirements that bar those with criminal records from
professions that otherwise might provide economic independence and
positively impact the American economy.

The study, “No Bars: Unlocking the Economic Power of the Formerly
Incarcerated,” summarizes recent research on employment of formerly
incarcerated individuals, focusing on the disproportionate effect of
occupational licensing requirements.

Between 60 percent and 75 percent of the more than 600,000 Americans
released from federal and state prisons each year are still unemployed
one year after release. Those who have found jobs make less money than
do individuals without criminal records.

“Hundreds of professions that require occupational licenses could
provide paths to economic independence for those formerly incarcerated,
except for the fact that their criminal histories alone may ban them
from receiving licenses, even if their convictions had no relevancy to
the job,” said Emily Fetsch, research assistant at the Kauffman
Foundation and author of the paper. “Removing these barriers would
benefit the formerly incarcerated and their families, curb recidivism
and boost the economy overall.”

High rates of incarceration affect people of color disproportionately.
Compared to white men, black men are six times more likely to be
incarcerated, and Hispanic men are 2.5 times more likely to be

“Licensing restrictions can block an important avenue to
self-sufficiency,” says Jason Wiens, policy director at the Kauffman
Foundation. “Numerous options for reform exist.”

The effect of occupational licensing is a closing off of numerous
low-skill (e.g., nail technician or barber) and high-skill (e.g.,
architect or geologist) jobs that could give formerly incarcerated
individuals a means for supporting themselves and their families.

The “No Bars” paper recommends these policy changes to remove
unnecessary occupational licensing barriers to employment:

  • Exclude people with criminal records from jobs that require
    occupational licenses only when their convictions are recent, relevant
    to the occupation and pose a public safety threat.
  • Offer former inmates the opportunity to secure certificates of
    restoration or rehabilitation that would open the door to receiving
    occupational licenses.
  • Prevent individuals who have been arrested for, but never convicted
    of, crimes from being disqualified from occupational licensing based
    solely on the arrest.
  • Question the need for occupational licensing policy altogether, rather
    than simply considering its restructuring. When public health is not
    threatened, licensing could be replaced by certification or another
    lesser form of regulation.

About the Kauffman Foundation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan
foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing
educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. Founded by late
entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is
based in Kansas City, Missouri, and has approximately $2 billion in
assets. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org,
and follow the Foundation on www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn
and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.


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