Policies in These 10 States Make It Harder for Felons To Find a Job

Regardless of your stance on convicted felons, there’s no denying that laws and policies can make it easier or harder for released felons to find jobs. Here are the worst states for felons looking for employment.

Ranking Felon Policies

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Zippia analyzed the following four factors to determine the worst states for felons seeking employment. The categories were as follows, with data used from The Sentencing Project:

  • Ban-the-box law
  • Background check laws
  • Percent of felons who disenfranchised
  • Voting restrictions

Defining Ban-the-Box

Job interview.
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Ban-the-box is a law that makes it illegal for employers to include a question about potential employees having a criminal record on their job applications. With that under our belt, these are the worst states for job-seeking felons.

1: Mississippi

Building in Oxford, Mississippi.
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Mississippi is the worst state for felons looking for a job. The Magnolia State has no ban-the-box law. It also doesn’t have voting restrictions for those in prison and on parole and probation.

2: Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia skyline.
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The Peach State isn’t so peachy for felons seeking employment. Georgia has no ban-the-box law, and a massive 10% of disenfranchised felons. Compared to Mississippi, the silver lining for felons in Georgia is that they only have voting restrictions when on prison parole.

3: Tennessee

Chattanooga, Tennessee skyline.
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Nine percent of Tennessee felons aren’t able to vote, with voting restrictions on people in prison and those on parole and probation. As with the two states before it, Tennessee offers no exceptions for background checks on felons.

4: Alabama

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Alabama is a troubling state for felons trying to find work, for it doesn’t have ban-the-box laws or background check exclusions. It’s also one of only two states in the U.S. to deny felons from voting post-sentence.

5: Florida

Melbourne Beach.
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The Sunshine State has made small strides for felons looking for employment. But it still ranks in the top five worst states for felons. Florida has no ban-the-box law, and a whopping 8% of disenfranchised felons.

6: Virginia

Blue Ridge Parkway.
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Like the states before it, Virginia’s employees are welcome to check a prospective employee’s criminal record without exceptions, making it challenging for felons to dip their toes into the working world. Virginia also places voting restrictions on felons in prison and on parole and probation.

7: Kentucky

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There isn’t a ban-the-box law in Kentucky, meaning felons must indicate they’ve been convicted of a felony if asked on a job application. The Bluegrass State also has a rate of 6% of disenfranchised felons.

8: Arizona

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Arizona is the first state with a single-hand percentage of disenfranchised felons (5%) on this list. But it’s still one of the worst states for felons seeking work because of its ban-the-box law and voting restrictions on people post-sentence.

9: Arkansas

Little Rock, Arkansas skyline.
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Arkansas doesn’t have any background exclusions for felons, nor does it have a ban-the-box law. It also has strong voting restrictions against felons, with those in prison, on parole, and on probation unable to vote.

10: Texas

A barn in Texas.
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Texas is the tenth-worst state for felons looking for employment. Depending on one’s stance, that may be a good or bad ranking. Regardless, the Lone Star State joins the other nine states on this list with no ban-the-box law or background check exclusions for felons.

What’s Up With Voting?

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Zippia chose to include voting rights in its rankings because they believe voting empowers workers. They also argue that voting can serve as “a proxy for attitudes toward felons.”

Best State for Felons

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Vermont is the best state for felons looking for employment. The Green Mountain State has no voting restrictions or disenfranchised felons. It also has a ban-the-box law in place.

Runners Up

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Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey are the second to fourth-best states for job-seeking felons, respectively. Although these states join Vermont in having no background check exceptions, they all have ban-the-box laws and low rates of disenfranchisement.

States With Background Check Exceptions

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Only seven states have background exceptions. Most of these exceptions depend on how much money a felon would make. For example, a felon making $20,000 or less per year in New Mexico can receive a background check exception, whereas felons in Colorado can make up to $75,000 per year with a background check exception.

A Sentence After the Sentence

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Zippia’s rankings show that not all states make it easy for felons to transition back into the real world. Being denied job opportunities can feel like a sentence outside of the confinements of prison.

Not Uncommon

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Approximately 20 million Americans have been charged with a felony at some point in their lives. While hiring former felons can come with risks for employers, the alternative would be to have 20 million felons on the street without employment.

The Struggle Is Real

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According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3.7% of the general public suffered from unemployment in 2022 compared to around 60% of previously incarcerated people.

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