One out of four Alameda County residents has a criminal record. Each can attest to one fact: possessing a conviction history makes it exceptionally hard to find work. When an employer sees that a job applicant has a record, they are 50 percent less likely to offer that person an interview.
Since most employers conduct background checks, this creates a cycle of unemployment that is hard to break. Moreover, employers are missing out on a valuable labor force.
Fair hiring, the practice of using hiring policies that reduce barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated, is good for business. Employers who practice fair hiring find people with records make great employees.
Taking advantage of their second chances, workers with records are more productive, have lower turnover rates, and are promoted faster than other workers. Army enlistees with felony records, for example, were 33 percent more likely to be promoted to sergeant.
These fair chance employers are doing more than boosting their bottom line. They are also embracing the local community by promoting diversity.
Most employers are familiar with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination. But most employers do not consider the diversity blind-spot that occurs when they refuse to hire people with records.
Blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at much higher rates than other races, which the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted in 2012 when it issued federal guidance stating that employers who use criminal history in employment decisions may inadvertently be in violation of Title VII.
Fair chance employers also promote public safety because employment is the number one deterrent to reoffending. Stable employment decreases the likelihood that an individual will return to jail, yet 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed a year after their release because of the barriers they face in the hiring process.
When people with records cannot work, their families and neighborhoods suffer. So does the economy. California could save $233.1 million annually in averted prison costs if the recidivism rate dropped by 10 percent. Ballot initiatives like Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 have started to address recidivism, but in Alameda County we want to do more to ensure that people who come back from jail find stable employment.
We no longer ask about conviction history until late in our application process. Alameda County also considers whether the applicant’s crime will affect his or her job performance — 95 percent of the time, the answer has been no.
My office aims to promote fair hiring in all sectors by launching the Let’s Work Pledge, which asks local businesses to follow the EEOC’s recommended hiring practices. We will bring local employers together for a Fair Hiring Summit on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Elihu M. Harris State Building in Oakland. Find out more at LetsWorkPledge.eventbrite.com.
We also recognize the reentry population is not homogeneous. That’s why the county is making a concerted effort to help the hardest-to-serve populations through our 1400 Jobs Initiative, which created a new job classification for people with recent felonies.
We hire people into this fully-benefitted, living-wage job until they are qualified for other County employment.
More than anything, we try to help by vocalizing our support for fair hiring policies. This issue affects 375,000 Alameda County residents. When people cannot work, they cannot provide for their children or contribute to their communities. If we continue to punish people for their past, our future will suffer.
Supervisor Keith Carson represents District 5 on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.