The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The war here at home:
Prison rates up, like unemployment

Apr 14, 2003

In 2002, more people were in prison in the United States than ever before – 2, 019, 234. It is hardly surprising, given the state of the economy with layoffs and rising unemployment rates. Some of those who cannot find legal work are willing to try illegal work.

Rates vary according to what state has jurisdiction over the crime committed and the extent to which those states use jail sentences. California's jail population actually went down last year, as non-violent drug offenders were given treatment, as opposed to jail time.

And rates of incarceration, like rates for unemployment, vary by race: in the category of men aged 20 to 34, black males were seven and a half times more likely to be incarcerated when compared to white males of the same age.

While the national unemployment rate has risen to 5.8%, the average for metropolitan areas, where the majority of the population lives and works, is at 6.5%. And in many cities, the rate is higher than that. Flint, Michigan, which has seen heavy layoffs in auto, has an unemployment rate of 9.8%.

In fact, these figures grossly understate the problem. What about the two million adults in prison – they are part of the unemployed – as are the big bulk of the soldiers who entered the armed forces because they couldn't find a job.