With a Criminal Record, a Fair Chance to Reentry Depends on a Living Wage


Today, nearly 1 in 4 people in the U.S. has a criminal record, and millions more interact with the justice system each year. Even a small interaction with the criminal legal system can make it difficult for a person to regain economic stability and can create lifelong hardship for the families impacted. People with criminal records face steep barriers to gaining employment, finding housing and accessing other government benefits.

Supporting effective reentry programs is a core part of our criminal justice work, which seeks to shrink the reach of the criminal legal system, address the harm it is caused—particularly within Black and brown communities—and create new pathways to justice and safety.

Reentry Through Employment

A critical part of reentry is strengthening the employment landscape for people touched by the justice system. Consider that nearly half of formerly incarcerated individuals experience unemployment during the first year following their release—challenges made even more acute during the pandemic. Moreover, because of long-standing bias in our legal system, Black and brown people are far more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated than their white counterparts—and, in turn, they are more likely to confront barriers to full employment.

Quality employment offers people a fair chance at earning a living wage and having a productive, stable future. And when employees hire people with criminal records, they are likely to get loyal, high-performing workers in return. Approximately 85% of human resources professionals in the U.S. report that employees with criminal records perform just as well, or even better than employees with no records. Additional evidence has found that employees with criminal records are also more likely to remain at their workplace, helping their employer avoid turnover and increase retention rates.

Scaling Solutions for Economic Mobility

Among our key investments in reentry efforts is our support to the $250 million Justice and Mobility Fund, launched with Blue Meridian Partners and the Ford Foundation. So far, the Fund has invested $185 million to support efforts to boost employment for people with criminal records and scale solutions that promote economic mobility for people touched by the justice system.

The Justice and Mobility Fund is pushing for a new normal where it is mainstream practice to hire, retain and advance people, regardless of justice involvement. As Stacy, Ford President Darren Walker and Blue Meridian CEO Nancy Roob, wrote in The Washington Post last year, “With pathways to living-wage work, people with criminal records can rebuild their lives, provide for their families and avoid the cycle of recidivism rooted in poverty.”

Some of the Fund’s grantees working on reducing barriers to employment include:

  • The Center for Employment Opportunities: An organization providing immediate, effective and comprehensive employment services to people recently released from incarceration.
  • The Clean Slate Initiative: A national bi-partisan coalition that advances policies to automatically clear eligible criminal records in states across the country, helping to eliminate barriers to education, jobs, housing, and public benefits for millions of people.
  • Jobs for the Future: An organization working with employers to create a demand-driven approach to hiring people with criminal records and promoting fair chance hiring for people with convictions.

Part of the Solution

We hope to see more organizations be part of this important work. This includes assessing hiring practices, advocating for policies that promote reentry and increasing investments in the initiatives leading the way.

Each of these actions has the potential for enormous impact; by supporting pathways to employment for people with criminal records and advancing fair chance hiring policies and practices, together we can improve public safety, secure real justice and ensure economic equity for all Americans.

David Weil is Co-President of Schusterman Family Philanthropies.
Nancy Fishman is the Senior Director of Criminal Justice Grantmaking at Schusterman Family Philanthropies.