Nearly every job application asks it: have you ever been convicted of a crime? For the hundreds of thousands of young men leaving American prisons each year, their answer to that question may determine whether they can find work and begin rebuilding their lives.
The product of an innovative field experiment, Marked gives us our first real glimpse into the tremendous difficulties facing ex-offenders in the job market. Devah Pager matched up pairs of young men, randomly assigned them criminal records, then sent them on hundreds of real job searches throughout the city of Milwaukee. Her applicants were attractive, articulate, and capable—yet ex-offenders received less than half the callbacks of the equally qualified applicants without criminal backgrounds. Young black men, meanwhile, paid a particularly high price: those with clean records fared no better in their job searches than white men just out of prison. Such shocking barriers to legitimate work, Pager contends, are an important reason that many ex-prisoners soon find themselves back in the realm of poverty, underground employment, and crime that led them to prison in the first place.
“Using scholarly research, field research in Milwaukee, and graphics, [Pager] shows that ex-offenders, white or black, stand a very poor chance of getting a legitimate job. . . . Both informative and convincing.”—Library Journal
“Marked is that rare book: a penetrating text that rings with moral concern couched in vivid prose—and one of the most useful sociological studies in years.”—Michael Eric Dyson
Devah Pager is associate professor of sociology at Princeton University.
“In 1970, President Nixon announced a massive war on crime. More prisons were built and more people incarcerated than ever before in U.S. history. With the media's portrayal of convicts as demons, the public attitude toward anyone who had ever been arrested became bleak and hostile. According to Pager, this attitude prevails today, particularly in the job market. Using scholarly research, field research in Milwaukee, and graphics, she shows that ex-offenders, white or black, stand a very poor chance of getting a legitimate job (though black men with clean records fared the same as whites just out of prison). As a result, many live in poverty or return to crime. Pager is not an activist clamoring for reform but instead presents her findings in a clearheaded manner, pointing out the societal consequences of the predicament and suggesting ways for change. Written for the general reader with a nod to the academic audience, the book is both informative and convincing. Highly recommended.”