As you know, Washington, D.C., is plagued by income inequality, unemployment and underemployment. The numbers are exacerbated among the more than 60,000 Returning Citizens – formerly incarcerated persons reentering society after serving in prison – who call D.C. home.
We are writing to ask you to take action now to call on the D.C. government to support their reentry into employment and society. Doing so not only will reduce recidivism, but also will stabilize our communities and begin to close the vast income gap across the District.
An important new campaign
Over the coming months, Justice First will be working with a diverse coalition in the labor, faith and Returning Citizens communities to push for hiring mandates across the region. Take the first step now to support our communities and sign our petition calling for D.C. to take important steps to ensure Returning Citizens are treated fairly and equally by employers.
Half of Returning Citizens who live in the District are unemployed and the other half are almost entirely relegated to low-income jobs. Discrimination toward Returning Citizens in the job market is rampant in D.C., and is having a disproportionate impact on already hard-hit and struggling communities.
Employment discrimination against Returning Citizens also has an impact on the District’s public welfare. Employment is the number one reducer of recidivism, even beyond “minor crimes.” For example, High Point, N.C., reduced recidivism by 35 percent simply by providing employment for former prisoners, including for those labeled “violent criminals.”
Recently, D.C. has taken an important first step by passing a “Ban-the-Box” law. But we can, and should, do more. We are calling for the District to take specific steps to help break the cycle of recidivism and support the reentry of Returning Citizens.
Why is this so important in D.C.?
By at least one measure, Washington, D.C., has the highest rate of income inequality in America. In several studies, we are in at least the top five cities/states. The “official” unemployment rate for D.C., as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 7.2 percent. And, as one might expect in one of the most unequal places in America, underemployment also is a serious problem.
Additional data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a much more dire situation. The “U6” rate of unemployment, for instance, is a more expansive definition and stands at 11.1 percent. Even these measures do not reflect the geographic realities of unemployment in the District.
Wards 7 and 8, which also have the highest poverty rates at 33.6 percent, have extraordinarily high rates of unemployment. According to the D.C. government, unemployment sits at roughly 11 percent in Ward 7 and 14 percent in Ward 8. Other estimates have ranged as high as 22 percent unemployment in these areas. In Wards 7 and 8, thousands who want work cannot find it, and thousands more who have it do not make enough – they are hovering just above the poverty line.
Wards 7 and 8 also have the most significant population of Returning Citizens.
Many employment issues facing these communities stem from policies and practices feeding into this country’s system of mass incarceration.
We must act now to support the reentry of Returning Citizens. Our communities already are experiencing the impact of discriminatory hiring. The positive steps taken recently on the federal level against cruel sentencing policies means that many thousands more Returning Citizens will be coming home. A mandate on hiring to support their reentry will be a powerful tool in diverting an even deeper spike in income inequality, reducing recidivism and stabilizing communities.
As D.C. continues existing efforts to provide jobs training to Returning Citizens, it should compile a database of “eligible employees.” Beyond this, the District should establish an online database for which Returning Citizens can self-register. These databases would be searchable by employers. These efforts must be advertised publicly, including canvassing in the community to ensure people know of its availability, as well as how to use it. To be truly effective, the District should enact a mandate, phased in over several years, requiring certain types of businesses to employ Returning Citizens as a percentage of their workforce. The hiring mandate could be combined with tax credits to incentivize these policies.
Sign our petition here, and let us know you are with us in our new campaign to ensure an equitable and safer D.C.
Soon we will be sharing information about upcoming volunteer opportunities and action alerts, as well as a fact sheet and other resources. We hope you will join us.
Income inequality, poverty and community violence do not have to perpetually plague us. We can solve these problems, but only if we demand the D.C. government create the tools we need – and use them to help us all.