WAMU 88.5 : News

Consider This: Hiring Ex-Offenders During High Unemployment

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There are many factors that contribute to the high rate of joblessness: the decline in manufacturing, the shipment of jobs overseas, the growth of technology, which does much of the work that used to be done by labor.

Politicians, economists, and an array of other experts are hoping to find solutions to some of these problems. And praying that others may disappear as the economic barometer rises.

There is one contributing factor though, which is a doozy: The pool of Americans seeking jobs includes more people with some sort of criminal record than ever before. Many of those crimes are minor offenses, like drug use and DWIs. Many companies screen new job applicants. It makes good business sense. And of course, there's the question of their reliability, if they fail to screen and an employee later harms somebody.

Screening applicants nowadays, with the advent of the Internet, is fast and easy. We spend enormous amounts of money to incarcerate people and hopefully to rehabilitate them. And then they are released, it's almost impossible for them to find gainful employment.

Nobody can deny that our society faces huge problems, resulting from drug addiction and crime generally. As governments at various levels have attempted to deal with the problems, they've stepped up the number of arrests. And the courts have imposed stiffer sentences. And all of this has posed terrific budgetary problems.

Whether those actions have served to ameliorate the problems is questionable. What is increasingly evident is that the end result is to worsen the problem of unemployment, which is where we came in.

Government guidelines require that employers take into account the severity of an offense, the length of time that has passed, and the relevance to the job in question.

Well, let's be honest. Can we expect all employers to invest all the time, the effort and the expense to study and consider all those factors. In the best of all possible worlds, it would be very nice. But, is it realistic? Especially when employers have such large pools of applicants to chose from?

Many employers suspect that hiring a person with a criminal record is a gamble. Can we say that they're wrong? Hardly. Can we hope that they can be fair and compassionate? Certainly. Do I have any solutions to the problem? Not really. As I said at the outset: Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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