The economic woes of the COVID-19 pandemic have a silver lining for many formerly incarcerated people who are landing jobs as employers struggle to find enough workers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
A small percentage of businesses have long made use of the large labor pool of 20 million Americans who are ex-felons, but almost 11 million new jobs were created by the pandemic, which helped others get a second chance, according to the Oct. 5 article.
“I promised that if I ever got another chance, I’d make the most of it,” Melvin Price Jr. told the Times.
Price, 41, paroled last year after 16 years in federal prison but struggled to find work, in part due to parole constraints.
With help from Chrysalis, a California-based non-profit that helps the entrenched unemployed, Price was eventually hired by Caltrans to do landscaping work at $3,000 a month, according to the article.
In recent years, California and an increasing number of states have banned employers from directly asking applicants about criminal records.
However, employers are exploiting loopholes by conducting background checks and asking about gaps in applicants’ work histories. Former felons risk discrimination if they answer honestly, or losing their hard-won job if they are later found to have lied.
“Of all people who face challenges in the labor market, those with records are at the end of the queue,” said Shawn Bushway, an economist and criminologist at the Rand Corporation, according to the Times.
Harley Blakeman, chief executive of Honest Jobs, a company matching employers with applicants with criminal histories, noted how background checks or disclosure of a criminal history can disqualify applicants without any regard to the type of job they are applying for.
He said that a person with a fraud conviction wouldn’t be suitable for a job handling finances, for example, but a warehouse job should be fine.
Job hunting tends to get easier for ex-felons during temporary labor shortages, but some analysts think current long-term labor trends could make this occasion a lasting opportunity .
Blakeman said in just the last few months seven Fortune 500 companies have signed on as partners with
Honest Jobs. Blakeman knows the employment hardship firsthand after struggling to find a job while on parole from serving 14 months in a Georgia prison.
Research has shown that after five to 10 years of being crime-free, a formerly incarcerated person has no higher chance of committing an offense than a person with no record. Harry Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, thinks employers have been overly fearful.
California-based U.S. Rubber Recycling is one company that has not been fearful. About half of its 65 employees are ex-felons. Chief Executive Jeff Baldassari says that their turnover rate is about 25% higher than those without criminal records.
“They stack up very well when it comes to skills,” said Baldassari. “Where the gap lies is in the attrition rate. The challenge they have with emotional stability is critical.
“Many don’t have life-skill lessons — how do you deal with relationships,” he added.
Baldassari has hired a psychiatric rehabilitation counselor to help.
Another company hiring ex-felons, Thermal-Vac Technology of Orange, Calif., holds weekly AA meetings and invites parole officers to visit.
Since being hired by U.S. Rubber Recycling after paroling from prison two years ago, Carlos Arceo, 39, has been promoted four times and is now a shift supervisor. “A lot of the hires are fresh out of prison, just like I was,” said Arceo, who notes that it’s not only used tires that are being repurposed. “We’re giving people a second chance too.”