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President Obama 'banned the box.' What it means and why you should care.

By 'banning the box,' he's setting a strong example the rest of the nation should follow.

President Obama 'banned the box.' What it means and why you should care.

Earlier today, President Obama issued an executive order "banning the box" for federal government employees.

What does this mean? Well, you know how on job applications, there's sometimes a little box that asks whether or not you've been convicted of a crime? With the wave of a pen, Obama just ordered that box to be removed from applications for jobs within the federal government, saying, "We can't dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake they made in the past."



From today's address in Newark, N.J. GIF from The White House.

Why? Here's how MSNBC's Ari Melber explains it:

"While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred."

The president's move follows a 2012 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommendation as to how arrests and convictions should be treated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In July 2015, President Obama visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, making him the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Within the first year after their release from prison, 60% to 75% of individuals are unable to find work.

If the goal of prison — if there must be one — is to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders back into society, "banning the box" helps accomplish that. If employers are able to quickly exclude anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime from the job pool, those with criminal records become significantly less likely (nearly 50%, according to one study) to receive an interview or job offer, and it becomes much tougher for ex-offenders to land employment.

Job-seekers attend a California job expo in 2008, when unemployment was on the rise. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

We spend $80 billion a year on incarceration.

When people are unable to find a job, they're more likely to find a source of income outside the law. And that puts us right back on square one, with these same individuals back in prison. No one wants that.

And even if this doesn't appeal to you on a humanitarian level, how about in terms of taking a look at how our tax dollars are spent? The truth is that it's really expensive to keep people locked up. We should be taking every step we can to ensure that people have every available opportunity to reintegrate into society upon release, and yes, that includes eliminating barriers that prevent applications from being seen.

A protester at a 2013 rally near the White House holds a sign urging the president to take action on criminal justice reform and end the War on Drugs. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

19 states have banned the box for public sector jobs; 7 states have banned it in all hiring.

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia make up the states where jobs for state employees cannot ask about criminal histories on applications. Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island have eliminated the box for private employers.

On Oct. 26, 2015, more than 130,000 signatures were delivered to the White House asking the president to issue an executive order banning the box. Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for ColorOfChange.org.

Banning the box is just part of the president's plan for criminal justice reform push.

The president is also calling on Congress to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would address mandatory minimum sentences, the use of solitary confinement, and development of a system to assess the risk level of prisoners. The bill currently rests with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In today's announcement, however, the president unveiled the creation of Department of Education adult re-entry education grants, new guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, increased training and education opportunities for people with criminal records, the creation of a "National Clean Slate Clearinghouse" for ex-offenders, and a number of other new reform initiatives.

Watch President Obama's comments about today's executive order below.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.