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Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in New York. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

For the second day, inmates in 17 states are on strike for, among other demands, higher wages at commercial jobs that often pay them less than $1 an hour and, when they are released, do not lead to employment.

Among these jobs: firefighting. More than 2,000 inmates are battling California's wildfires, but the likelihood is that none with a felony record will manage to obtain a firefighting job on release from prison, despite their experience, mainly because of licensing rules.

Why it matters: For-profit companies hire inmates at rates far below minimum wage and manufacture goods at low cost, said Brianna Peril, founder of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. Rival "businesses can't compete with that," Peril tells Axios.

By the numbers: Nearly 700,000 prisoners have daily jobs through federal correctional programs like Unicor, which made $453.8 million in sales last year, and many work for for-profit companies like McDonalds, Whole Foods and Walmart.

  • The average inmate worker makes 63 cents an hour working non-industry jobs.
  • Industry jobs at state owned businesses pay an average of $1.41.

Finding work: A sore point among the strikers is the difficulty transitioning back into society after release despite their work experience. Just 55% of inmates reported any earnings in the first year after release, with the median at slightly over $10,000, according to data from the Brookings Institution.

  • This in part is what leads some to call the labor situation "modern-day slavery."
  • African Americans are 13% of the total U.S. population, but 40% of the country's prisoners.
It's slavery. I can't go get a job for a dollar and make a living.
— Peril

The big picture: People are unable to sympathize with prisoners, but they might understand if they look at the situation as economics, Peril said.

Often, after working for years as prisoners, convicts are given a small home-plan package of as much as $50 dollars and a bus ticket without having a place to stay, or a job. Because of that, Peril said, they often end up back in prison.

Their demands: Jailhouse Lawyers Speak says the inmates have planned work stoppages, sit-ins, and hunger strikes, and demand:

  • Higher wages and job rights on release
  • Restoration of voting rights for felony convicts
  • A better channel to hear grievances
  • Abolishment of the death penalty

"They're pretty mild and reformist demands," Peril said. "But we're trying to restore their humanity. That's not asking much."

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats target billionaires

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

After failing to get a deal on other planned tax increases, key Senate Democrats are pivoting to a billionaires' income tax to pay for President Biden's social spending.

The big picture: No advanced economy has attempted anything similar on such a scale.

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
8 hours ago - Economy & Business

Trump's volatile return to the stock market

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals 

Donald Trump this week became both a meme stock and a social-media entrepreneur at the same time, by announcing that a new company called Trump Media & Technology Group was going to merge with an existing company listed on the stock market.

Why it matters: The medium-term promise of Trump's media company is that it will replace Twitter for anybody wanting to keep track of Trump's messages. The short-term promise is that it can be a hot new speculative vehicle for people wanting to get rich quick in the stock market.