Equal access to employment opportunities benefits neighborhoods, families, the economy, and the overall societal well-being. However, for many members of our community this access has been denied. Communities of color are facing a serious employment crisis in our state. Minnesota has the worst unemployment gap in the nation, where Blacks are three times more likely to be unemployed than Whites. A contributing factor leading to this disparity are the challenges experienced by those with a criminal record who are seeking to obtain employment. Especially when, more than 92% of employers use background checks, and as many as two thirds refuse to hire applicants with criminal or arrest records, regardless of the length of time since conviction or relevancy to the job. A criminal history serves as a bar to employment.
States across the nation are engaging in reform efforts by addressing the unemployment challenges that those with a criminal history are facing. These states recognize that having a job is key to community-building. Policy changes will aid in eliminating the racial jobs gap and offering opportunities for those with a criminal record to secure a job. For instance, the state of Indiana restricts the information that criminal history providers are allowed to share with employers. The state no longer allows criminal history providers to include in a report an infraction such as an arrest or a charge that did not result in a conviction. Also, included in this legislation is the restriction of not providing a record that has been expunged, a record of a felony that has been entered or converted to a misdemeanor conviction, and a record that the criminal history provider knows is inaccurate. Further, the State also bars employers from inquiring into sealed records and violators are subject to a $1,000 fine. Indiana can serve as a model for reform, and to improve the livelihood of millions of Minnesotans we must take action by organizing around this important issue.
Further, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added new guidelines to address the employment challenges that people with criminal records are facing. In 2013, the EEOC limited the scope in which past criminal records could be evaluated and set forth guidelines limiting an employer’s ability to examine past criminal records. The EEOC offers a comprehensive model for fair hiring practices. An employer must first look at the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct. Second, the employer must look at the amount of time that has passed since the offense or conduct in question. Third, the nature of the job the applicant is applying for must be evaluated. These guidelines are one step in the right direction for policy reform however there is more work to be done.
Now is the time to take action in order to ensure those with a criminal history have a second chance. A chance to write a new chapter for their futures by becoming gainfully employed, supporting their families, and strengthening our community. Take Action MN and community leaders are working to make this vision a reality. Please join the Target Racial Jobs Gap meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. in the Capri Theatre to lead change in Minnesota. For more information about Take Action Minnesota and the Justice 4 All Campaign please visit: www.takeactionminnesota.org.