After forty years of growth in the scale of criminal punishment, the United States has built a massive penal system unparalleled in the world, incarcerating whole segments of America’s poor and minority communities. From 1972 to 2011 the US incarceration rate increased fivefold. There are now about 2.25 million people in prison or jail in the United States.
America is witnessing the worst affordable housing crisis in generations. Median asking monthly rent for vacant units increased by 70% from 1990 to 2006, years that saw far more modest gains in incomes at the bottom of the wage distribution. Poor families’ incomes began to stagnate or even fall in the 2000s, but their rents continued to climb.
Since 2000, the U.S. poverty rate has increased and the poor have become poorer. Welfare reform, the prison boom, the rise of short-term and low-wage jobs, political decisions at the federal level, declines in union membership, and stubbornly high rates of joblessness in disadvantaged communities have all contributed to deepening poverty in America.