By Robert Stitt
On December 4, the U.S. unemployment rate was announced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor. The rate held steady at 5 percent overall, but for Blacks it remained nearly double at 9.4 percent.
Not addressed in the Department of Labor reports are the reasons behind this discrepancy. Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, argues that the reason is due to the number of Black people who are in or have gone through the criminal justice system.
She says that many Black men are not able to re-enter the work force because they are labeled as felons and prevented from “ever being gainfully employed.”
Recently, a group of Pennsylvania judges took a look at Pennsylvania’s Older Adult Protective Services Act which banned nearly 200,000 people from certain employment positions if they had a criminal record. Among the employment opportunities they were banned from were elder care jobs.
According to the Huffington Post, the judges decided that the law was too broad and struck it down. The panel of judges noted that the law did not give consideration to the type of crime committed or how long ago it was committed.
One of the people who filed a challenge to the law, Tyrone Peak, has been barred from work as a caregiver because he was “convicted of riding in a stolen car in 1981.”
“I’ve been fired from three jobs because [of] having a criminal record. And my record is like 32 years old, and I haven’t been in trouble since then,” Peake said.
The Atlanta BlackStar notes that Peake went back to school, works as a men’s drugs and alcohol counselor, but is still being punished for a crime committed in 1981.
In her book, Alexander says Black felons are treated worse by the justice system than Blacks under Jim Crow.
“Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal,” Alexander writes. “As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.”
Pennsylvania may be looking to join California in making changes. Californian employers can no longer ask if you are a felon on job applications.