The U.S. job market is steadily recovering to near pre-pandemic levels. There are a record 5 million more open positions than unemployed people and nearly two open jobs for every job seeker. Employers across industries are fiercely competing for skilled workers, but many are overlooking qualified job seekers who face unjust barriers to employment.
We’re talking about 78 million adult Americans who have an arrest or conviction record — most for minor, nonviolent offenses. Far too often, they are automatically rejected by employers who have outdated hiring practices in place. As the labor market tightens and employers answer the call to build a more inclusive workforce, it’s time to change that and give people with arrest or conviction backgrounds a second chance at a decent livelihood. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good business.
Americans expect companies to do better. A new national survey commissioned by Kelly Services found 80 percent agree employers and policymakers should do more to remove barriers that keep people from being hired or promoted. More than two in three Americans say this convicted on nonviolent mistakes made in the past should not automatically disqualify a person from being able to find meaningful employment; and three in four say they are more likely to seek employment with a company committed to knocking down these barriers.
The consensus is clear: Everyone convicted deserves a second chance after they’ve paid their debt to society.
The good news is more employers are recognizing the value of second-chance talent and are taking steps to consider applicants with blemished backgrounds for positions when their record has no bearing on job requirements. Part of this sea change is driven by a historically low national unemployment rate, but it is also influenced by the fact that hiring second chance workers is better for the bottom line.
Consider the results of a partnership between Kelly and Toyota’s vehicle manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. By turning to Kelly to source and hire skilled workers with a tarnished history, Toyota increased the plant’s talent pool by 20 percent, improved turnover by 70 percent, and raised the diversity of its workforce by 8 percent. Not one of the second chance workers placed has been terminated for behavior correlated to their history.
At JPMorgan Chase, concerted efforts to clear pathways for candidates with such records have been underway since 2019. Second chance hires now comprise about 10 percent of new hires. In 2021, more than 4,200 people with arrest or conviction records joined JPMorgan Chase. Much of this progress has occurred thanks to the combination of policy engagement, philanthropic capital and hiring policies, and close collaboration with nonprofit organizations in local communities like Chicago, Columbus and Phoenix.
Kelly and JPMorgan Chase no longer ask about arrests or convictions on job applications, a practice known as “banning the box.” Both companies are proud members of the Second Chance Business Coalition, which includes nearly 40 large private-sector firms committed to expanding second chance hiring. The Coalition encourages businesses to develop and share best practices and test new approaches to second chance hiring.
Later this month, the Coalition plans to release a publicly available second chance community stakeholder map to help supportive employers of all sizes develop partnerships and connect with nonprofit organizations offering work readiness and industry-specific training, job retention supports, and re-entry programming across the country. The Coalition is also creating a practical “on-ramps” guide for companies looking to build second chance programs, which will also be shared publicly.
Companies interested in joining this effort can start their journeys by reviewing their hiring practices, ending blanket bans on candidates with arrest or nonviolent criminal histories, and conducting individualized assessments for open positions. They can also support bipartisan clean slate laws that allow job seekers to have their records automatically expunged after they’ve paid their debt to society.
Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey have already enacted such laws and several other states are also seeking to advance automatic record-clearing policies of their own, including Colorado, Illinois and New York.
While there is more work to do, we are encouraged to see so many employers and policymakers taking steps to end discriminatory hiring practices. They know what we know: Second chance hiring is not only good for the economy, it’s also the right thing to do.