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Ex-offenders get a second look in a tight US labor market

Peyton Forte, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

As companies struggle to find workers in a labor market disrupted by the pandemic, there are signs that the competition for talent is benefiting an often-sidelined group: the estimated one in three U.S. adults who have a criminal record.

Job boards aimed at this population say they are getting busier. One such marketplace, Honest Jobs, had 158 companies register for its site from May to July, roughly doubling its ranks of active employers. New York City-based nonprofit Fortune Society says placements in April through June were up 14% from the same period last year. Another agency, 70 Million Jobs, says it has had to turn away business from those looking to hire.

“There are companies that had no pre-existing program or intentional process for tapping into this demographic, and now we are helping them hire,” said Harley Blakeman, chief executive officer of Honest Jobs.

A more favorable job market for ex-offenders would represent a pendulum swing from the beginning of the public-health crisis, when they were sometimes among the first to lose work amid widespread layoffs. But now, many companies are scrambling to staff their stores, restaurants and warehouses to meet pent-up demand, forcing them to cast a wider net.

Help wanted

Corporate America is trying a myriad of tactics to address worker shortages, including hosting national hiring events, offering tuition reimbursement and paying higher wages.

 

Already, restaurant chains like Papa John’s International Inc. are enticing new recruits with bonuses. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. is boosting its wage floor in the U.S. to $15 per hour after rival CVS Health Corp. said it would do the same. Amazon.com Inc. is getting creative in addressing its driver shortage by urging delivery partners to advertise that they don’t screen employees for marijuana use.

Smaller businesses have also had to shake up hiring. Of the 100 or so people employed by CleanTurn, an Ohio-based provider of cleaning and disinfecting services, about 90 have been incarcerated, said founder John Rush. While his business has always accepted workers with criminal records, labor shortages have pushed the company to give greater consideration to applicants with violent and sex-based offenses, he said.

“That’s allowed us to be able to say ‘yes’ to more folks who have, on paper, more significantly challenging backgrounds,” Rush said.

Because of the labor crunch, Rush said he’s hired double the number of people with violent and sex-based offenses this year compared to the previous two years combined. Currently, about 10% of his workforce fall under that category.

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