In the US, one in three adults, or around 70 million people, have some form of criminal records, while 20 million Americans have been convicted of a felony. These records often serve to shut otherwise qualified candidates out of all but the least-skilled and lowest-paying jobs. Black and Latino men, who make up a disproportionate share of the prison and ex-offender population, suffer the most from this barrier to employment. The inability to get a good job leaves many former prisoners with few options for escaping a life of crime, and studies have shown that gainful employment for ex-felons is one of the most effective deterrents to recidivism, which means employers play a key role in helping reintegrate former prisoners into society.
With unemployment below 4 percent, more job openings than candidates, and many US employers struggling to find the workers they need, the stigma attached to criminal backgrounds in employment now stands to harm not only individuals and communities, but also businesses. “It is morally and economically bad for our country if we do not start removing barriers that prevent returning citizens from a shot at a better life after they have paid their debt to society,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and former secretary of education Arne Duncan write in an op-ed at the Chicago Tribune. “Business should be at the forefront of solving this challenge. Frankly, it’s in our best interest to do so.”
Dimon and Duncan point to several initiatives going on in the Chicago area and around the country to create employment opportunities for ex-convicts and people at risk of being swept up in the criminal justice system:
First, Boeing and a number of other organizations are partnering on Heartland Alliance’s READI Chicago initiative. This two-year program is trying to reduce gun violence by providing returning citizens and others susceptible to gun violence with employment, job training and support services. Programs like this can help reduce recidivism rates, decrease neighborhood crime and promote economic opportunity.