Today, Americans with criminal records are at a crossroads. A substantial portion of our population—some 65 million people, more than one in four U.S. adults—have an arrest or conviction record, and most large employers now perform background checks. As a result of employers’ misuse of these background checks, millions of workers have had the door of opportunity slammed in their faces.
Many job ads include language like this: “No exceptions! No misdemeanors or felonies of any type ever in background.” People with records, ready and willing to work, can’t find jobs to support their families and contribute to their communities.
The National Employment Law Project’s new report, 65 Million “Need Not Apply:” The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment [pdf], provides a wake-up call to America about the harsh reality that confronts workers with arrest and conviction records every day.
No-hire policies don’t afford a second chance to those with minor offenses such as trespassing or loitering, people whose arrests never even led to convictions, or people who’ve turned their lives around.
Arcadia Murillo lost her job because of the arrest on her record—even though her arrest was old and charges were dropped. People like Darrell Langdon, with a drug possession conviction from a quarter-century ago, are turned away from work despite being able to show more than 20 years of sobriety. Talented and inspiring women like Ayanna Spikes continue to get the cold shoulder from recruiters. After completing a two-year prison sentence, Ms. Spikes has completely turned her life around, receiving multiple scholarships to graduate from UC Berkeley. Yet she is also struggling to find work because of the criminal record that she hoped to leave behind. These Americans deserve a second chance.
The impacts of no-hire policies cut across race and class, but because people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, these communities are especially hard-hit. With the unemployment rate of African Americans at over 15 percent and Latinos at over 11 percent, the effects are real.
Yet there is hope. There are laws in place that support a commonsense approach. Instead of a no-hire ban, employers must look at what the arrest or conviction was for, how long ago it was, whether it’s in any way related to the job, or what the person has done with his or her life since. We need the employer community to comply with the law and embrace this approach, so that highly qualified workers who pose little or no risk are not left out of the job market.
If we want our economy to thrive, if we want safer streets, then we need to ensure that people like Ms. Murillo, Mr. Langdon, and Ms. Spikes, all of whom are well-qualified, have the dignity of a fair opportunity to work.