Ex-offenders re-examine a tight US job market

As companies struggle to find workers in a labor market disrupted by the pandemic, there are signs that the competition for talent is benefiting an often marginalized group: an estimated one in three American adults has a criminal record.

Job boards aimed at this population say they are getting busier and busier. One of those markets, Honest Jobs, registered 158 companies on its site from May to July, roughly doubling the number of active employers. The New York-based Fortune Society says April-June placements were up 14% from the same time last year. Another agency, 70 Million Jobs, says it had to turn down deals to those looking to hire.

“There are companies that didn’t have a pre-existing program or intentional process to tap into this demographic, and now we’re helping them hire,” said Harley Blakeman, CEO of Honest Jobs.

A more favorable job market for ex-offenders would represent a swing from the start of the public health crisis, when they were sometimes among the first to lose their jobs amid widespread layoffs. But now, many companies are scrambling to staff their stores, restaurants and warehouses to meet pent-up demand, forcing them to expand their network.

Ask for help

Corporate America is trying a myriad of tactics to address worker shortages, including hosting nationwide hiring events, offering tuition reimbursement, and paying higher wages.

Already, restaurant chains like Papa John’s International Inc. are attracting new hires with bonuses. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. raises its minimum wage in the United States to $ 15 an hour after rival CVS Health Corp. said he would do the same. Amazon.com Inc. is getting creative in addressing its driver shortage by urging delivery partners to announce that they are not screening employees for marijuana use.

Small businesses have also had to shake up hiring. Of the 100 or so people employed by CleanTurn, an Ohio-based cleaning and disinfection service provider, about 90 have been incarcerated, founder John Rush said. Although his company has always accepted workers with criminal records, labor shortages have prompted the company to pay more attention to applicants with violent and gender-based offenses, he said. he declares.

“It has allowed us to be able to say ‘yes’ to more people who have, on paper, more difficult backgrounds,” Rush said.

Due to the labor shortage, Rush said he hired double the number of people with violent and gender-based offenses this year compared to the previous two years combined. Currently about 10 percent of its workforce fall into this category.

Still, it’s unclear how long the more aggressive corporate courtship display with workers will last. Improved unemployment benefits that were part of the federal pandemic relief program have expired, which could put some on-time workers back in search of work. The return to schooling in person could cause some parents to return to the workplace.

Meanwhile, a weak employment report in August suggests that the spread of the delta variant threatens a robust economic recovery.

A second chance

The impact of incarceration rarely ends after the end of a prison sentence. Employers are often reluctant or hesitant to hire people with criminal records, which is why about 45% of formerly jailed people report no income in the first year after release, according to a Brookings Institution study.

This was the case with Devine Lambert, who found it extremely difficult to find a job after being released from prison in July 2020.

“There are actually people who want to work,” said Lambert, 24, who has served six months for robbery. “And we don’t have the opportunity to do it because we’re being judged on something we’ve done when we haven’t had the chance.”

Lambert was finally able to secure a job as a housekeeper at a Los Angeles-area hotel in July, concluding a year-long search.

Due to the scarcity of job vacancies, workers with criminal records are often forced to settle for temporary, part-time or moonlighting. Local laws may restrict their access to business licenses and other credentials. Public policy experts say their struggle to get hired often reflects public perception and racial prejudice.

“A lot of these restrictions have nothing to do with the ability to do the job,” said ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s racial justice program. “And they are particularly harmful to black and brown communities, which are over-policed.”

The disparities within the justice system are particularly glaring for black Americans, who represent 40% of the incarcerated population while they represent 13% of American residents.

Lambert landed his job amid very unusual dynamics in the US job market. Employers are trying to fill a record number of vacancies as many people choose not to reenter the workforce due to a complicated mix of factors related to the pandemic. This challenge comes as many companies were already rethinking their hiring policies in the wake of a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism that occurred after the murder of George Floyd last year.

An example of this change is CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a commitment backed by business leaders ranging from Bank of America Corp. to Goodwill Industries International Inc. The pledge has seen the number of its signatories more than double since May 2020.

“We don’t just give someone a great opportunity to move forward in their life, we give ourselves the opportunity to experience the world and create a richer work environment,” said Steve Preston, CEO of Goodwill, which provides job-placement assistance to formerly incarcerated people.

Gain momentum

Even as the job market soon becomes more competitive, former job seekers may see better employment prospects thanks to the momentum around clean slate laws, which automatically erase or seal arrest and conviction records. eligible.

Several states have already passed automatic record erasure laws and similar legislation is advancing in others, according to the Clean Slate Initiative state tracker. While most states currently have a petition-based delisting process, it’s usually so complicated and expensive that few people eligible for relief get it, said Sheena Meade, executive director of Clean Slate.

Likewise, many states have adopted “no-box” policies, which remove questions about convictions and arrest history from job applications and defer background checks to a later stage in the process. ‘hiring. At the federal level, a law banning the box was introduced by Democratic representatives Maxine Waters and David Trone in March.

While these laws can help change the rules of the game, employment options for people with criminal records still depend heavily on individual business priorities. Meade highlights the work of business leaders such as Jeff Korzenik, director of Fifth Third Bank, author of “Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community,” and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co., who spoke in favor of fair hiring, a sign of a trend reversal.

Yet their views are hardly universal. A 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that just over half of human resources professionals said they would be willing to hire people with criminal records. Richard Bronson, CEO of 70 Million Jobs, says his company receives a “surprising” number of inquiries from the tech industry, although he added, “They talk well, but rarely follow through.

“Much of the interest we received in accessing this huge pool of largely ignored talent was driven not by corporate responsibility but by economic desperation,” said Bronson. “Which is good because we are looking to meet that demand.”

History of Peyton Forte.

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