By 2000, 3 percent of the US population was either locked up, on probation or on parole—a rate unparalleled worldwide. This trend disproportionately affects people of color.
The practice of employers rejecting applicants or firing workers solely because they have criminal records is illegal but still widespread .
The millions of people locked out of the job market as a result of their records aren’t just sitting around. They’re churning through formal and informal part-time work, fueling a shadow economy akin to the one that often exploits undocumented workers.
A growing movement is pushing states to “ban the box,” or more closely regulate when and how employers can ask about criminal records on job applications. The movement has logged some victories: in October, Target, the nation’s second-largest retailer, announced that it would stop asking the question of prospective employees.