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Legend's Oscar speech raises questions about more than race in the U.S.
Musician John Legend's Oscar acceptance speech highlighted America's high black incarceration rate, raising awareness about the vicious cycle of poverty, race and prison. - photo by Chandra Johnson
Musician John Legend picked up an Oscar this past weekend for "Glory," an original song for the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, "Selma," and used his time at the podium to draw attention to America's black incarceration rate.

We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real, Legend said in his speech. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.

And Legend's numbers are right. According to the Pew Research Center, there are more than 4,000 incarcerated black men in America for every 100,000 black residents, making the incarceration rate for black men six times that of white men.

Not only is the disparity an obvious social problem, it's an economic one.

"Employers are often reluctant to hire otherwise qualified applicants with criminal records," The Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund wrote in the wake of Legend's speech. "Many economists worry that given the extraordinary number of people with criminal records or convictions, this tendency is making it unnecessarily hard for firms to find workers and hampering economic growth."

Some interest groups like have argued that while racial disparity in incarceration rates is a startling revelation for race relations in America, the underlying problem knows no race or ethnicity: Poverty. And African-Americans aren't the only minority group with a higher incarceration rate than whites Latinos are also more likely to be incarcerated.

"Poverty and crime combined together leave people with two choices: Either take part in criminal activities or try to find legal but quite limited sources of income when there are any available at all," wrote on its website in 2013. "Where you find poverty is also where you find crime."