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How much difference does an expungement make?

On Behalf of | Nov 16, 2021 | Expungement

If you have ever been convicted of a crime, you probably realize your punishment didn’t end when everyone else thought it did. Convictions come with long-lasting secondary effects. They may limit your rights, and they can hurt your chances for good-paying jobs.

How serious are those financial penalties? A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that convictions may very well cut more than 50 percent out of your lifetime earnings. It found that people convicted of misdemeanors lost roughly 16 percent of their lifetime wages. Felonies without imprisonment ate away nearly 22 percent of what someone might expect without the conviction. Felonies that led to imprisonment cost convicts an average of 51.7 percent their lifetime expected wages.

Expungements may help level the playing field

The good news is that you may be able to find some escape from this lifelong punishment. Another study found that people who received expungements saw their long-term wages rise.  This study, from the University of Michigan, only looked at convicts in Michigan. Still, the authors explain why Michigan’s diverse population and long history of expungements made the state a reasonable example for other states, such as Washington.

The study used the term “expungement” broadly. It grouped data from actual expungements with information about sealed records, and it found:

  • People who had their records expunged or sealed saw their wages go up by roughly 25 percent over what they might have expected prior to expungement.
  • Expungement also corresponded with a sharp increase in chances of employment. Convicts saw their chances for gainful employment rise each of the first three years after expungement.
  • People without criminal records received 63 percent more callbacks on their job applications.

The report’s authors admitted there was no proof to show the expungements caused the wage increases. However, they noted that most employers perform background checks. The authors cited a 2012 survey that found:

  • 87 percent of employers performed background checks on some hires
  • 69 percent performed background checks on all the people they planned to hire

Meanwhile, background checks aren’t the only barriers that follow a conviction. Many jobs require licenses that people with convictions cannot get. Also, as the Brennan Center for Justice notes, people who serve prison time also miss out on opportunities for self-improvement that multiply over time. Expungements don’t solve all these problems, but they can help.

Expungement as an investment

Given how much it can help to get your records sealed or expunged, you may be surprised to learn that few people make the effort. The University of Michigan report found that only 6.5 percent of convicts bothered to apply for expungement within 5 years of becoming eligible. In other words, over 90 percent of convicts either didn’t know their convictions were still holding them back, or they just accepted it.

It’s true that there’s a cost to expungement. Most people need attorneys to help them through the process. But it’s important to remember that the legal fees associated with expungement aren’t a penalty; they’re an investment. The reports are clear about this: Convictions weigh you down. Expungements help you rise back up.